Pitkin County commisioners talk about immigration & TSA | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County commisioners talk about immigration & TSA

Pitkin County commissioners heard a report Tuesday from Sarah Hughes, deputy chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, on the immigration legislation now inching its way through Congress.

Hughes was optimistic that the Democrat-controlled Senate will pass a bill before the end of June, but the bill — and the entire topic — is more controversial in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

“It does look like the Senate will vote it off the floor with hopefully close to 70 votes,” Hughes said. “That would put some pressure on the House.”

Bennet, a Democrat, is a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators that has tried to tackle the immigration issue and advance reforms in an area of U.S. policy that everyone agrees is broken. But while the Gang of Eight has tried to use a “collaborative, apolitical approach,” Hughes said, things don’t look as rosy in the House.

“We still have a lot of work to do on the House side,” Hughes said.

If the House does pass a bill, then Hughes expects the Senate and House could go to a conference in late summer or early fall to reconcile any differences in the two versions.

Much of the Congressional argument over immigration reform has concerned the so-called path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already within the United States. Hughes made it clear that the path would be “fair but earned” and that any who choose to travel the path would take a place in line after the current backlog of legal immigration requests.

Furthermore, Hughes said, the Senate bill is very much a “border-security bill” that also includes improvements to the guest worker program that should help both agricultural employers and ski resorts.

In another development, commissioners agreed to send a letter to Colorado’s congressional delegation taking issue with a provision in the proposed 2014 federal budget that they called an “unfunded mandate.”

The Transportation Security Administration plans to stop staffing so-called exit lanes at the country’s airports. If the TSA refuses to staff the areas, then the task would fall to airport operators. Exit lanes are the places where airline passengers can leave the secured areas near the airline gates and return to the unrestricted, public zones of an airport.

Aspen-Pitkin County Airport officials argue that, by refusing to place their guards at exit lanes, the TSA is imposing a burden on airport operators around the country. Commissioner Rachel Richards said, “It’s an unfortunate passing of the buck to local communities.”

Airport Director Jim Elwood said TSA employees are better candidates for the exit-lane posts because they’re trained in behavioral analysis and other relevant skills. The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport does not currently have an exit lane but could have one if the county eventually rebuilds the terminal.

“Statutorily, exit lanes have never been the responsibility of the airport operator,” the county’s draft letter said. “Selectively shifting responsibilities and costs in this area will result in yet another unfunded mandate for airports, which are typically units of local government. Across the country, this proposed change is expected to cost airports tens of millions of dollars.”


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