Guest column: Elk, immigration and boundaries | AspenTimes.com

Guest column: Elk, immigration and boundaries

Kelly Couey
Guest column

This past hunting season, I took my 13-year-old daughter out for her first elk hunt. The morning was still, no breeze to carry our scent to warn the elk of our approach. We could hear bulls bugling, cows and calves calling. I could feel my daughter's hand tremble in excitement as I held it, awaiting daylight. We had a surprise in store for us, though. Just before light, the herd of elk left our field and crossed the fence into the sanctuary of our neighbor's land adjacent to our property, where we could not shoot to collect rent for the pasture they had just eaten.

I don't blame the elk for entering my property to feast on the lush grass awaiting them. They were not starving where they were, but an easier life and the benefits on my side of the fence are just too tempting for them.

I could build a better fence to keep them out, but I know from experience that they would crawl through, over or under that same fence. I also could harvest the pasture for hay or graze the fields with my cattle to remove the temptation for them to enter my property, but I also like the elk to come in. My family and friends enjoy a good, organic elk roast or steak, so I continue to allow them to come in because it is still beneficial to me.

It dawned on me recently that my dealings with elk coming to my ranch are comparable to the undocumented immigrants — or guest workers, if you prefer — that are coming to our country. They don't all cross a border to get in. Many overstay tourist visas or do not leave after their H-2A or H-2B visas or green cards expire. More stay after finding the benefits of having a child here. Others who could afford legal counsel have gained permanent residency or even citizenship during the last amnesty program.

I blame both parties for the breakdown in our immigration system. The accusations of "They are bringing in more voters" or "All they want is cheap labor" ring back and forth through our legislative halls and biased media of choice that we listen to. If a rancher can figure out what incentives can induce deer, elk and other animals to enter their property and also what actions they can take to make that same property unattractive for the migrant "guest grazers," our elected officials can do the same with our visitors from other countries.

The problem I and other people in business face now is a $50,000 fine for hiring guest workers without proper identification. We are required to have a Social Security number and a photo ID. The number of fraudulent IDs is staggering. One former employee with a fraudulent ID is still collecting workers' compensation! I don't understand how that works. We do not know who stole our son's Social Security number, but the overwhelming inability to differentiate between proper and improper ID has held up our substantial tax return after someone decided to borrow our son's. The system is flooded with identity theft, and we are the casualty.

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The time has come when we must deal with immigration and tourist, student, H-2A and H-2B visas. The danger from terrorists sneaking into this country under the cover of any of these programs is too great and all too apparent after recent events in Paris. Another one of our daughters was on a 4-H trip to Boston just days before the terrorist bombs went off in that city, and we now know firsthand the fear to have family members at any public event. E-Verify and other programs that sit collecting dust must be passed. The incentives that attract an illegal workforce must be eliminated, and the laws to punish those who would break our laws and our sovereignty must be enforced.

I would ask that you "think again" on immigration. Our safety and well-being outweigh the games our political leaders are playing.

Kelly Couey, his wife, Carrie, and their six children make their home at their family ranch south of Silt. He enjoys the outdoors, working cattle and watching the spectacle that is politics.

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