Immigration reform has been put on the back burner for the past year or so. It has been eclipsed by debates over health care reform and job creation. But for many rural farming communities, at least in the West, it's an issue that continues to burn.
Out in Eastern Colorado, the tiny town of Yuma has recently weighed in on the immigration debate. The town council passed a unanimous resolution calling on the U.S. Congress and the president to "solve our ineffective immigration system."
'On The Edge'
Like much of the Eastern Colorado plains, Yuma — population 3,200 — is heavily conservative. The county has voted Republican in the last two presidential elections.
For generations the town has relied on immigrant labor, which used to be seasonal. But in the past decade those jobs have become permanent, thanks to the area's expanding hog farms and feedlots. Today at least a quarter of Yuma's population is Hispanic, more if you factor in illegal immigrants.
Steering his pickup onto Yuma's Main Street, which is sprinkled with Hispanic-owned businesses and restaurants, Ralph Ebert says the immigrants have created a shadow economy here.
"They're afraid to open bank accounts," Ebert says. "They're afraid to get involved because they don't want to get deported."
Ebert's a local town councilman who sponsored the immigration resolution because he says illegal workers need a path to citizenship to be fully part of this community. "They're on the edge, a lot of these people," he says.
Businesses here are also on edge. Even during one of the worst recessions in history, unemployment hovers around 4 percent. Many businesses struggle to fill positions, and they worry about immigration raids and losing their workforce.
Tom Holdorf, who co-owns a feedlot east of town, says most of the people who apply for work are from Mexico. "If we had to rely on ... those that have legal papers only, we'd have to close down," Holdorf says. "We couldn't find enough help."
He says the immigrants he hires work hard, and if he could find enough help from Americans he would hire them.
But that argument doesn't wash with others in Colorado, especially immigration reform opponents like former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo.
"Hogwash — no pun intended," Tancredo says. "They most certainly can. They just have to pay more."
At the Main Event Bar in Yuma, a group of longtime locals jokingly refer to themselves as the "Knights of the Roundtable." They're meeting for an after-work drink. Dan Corf has a different set of reasons behind opposing immigration reform.
"We have too many people coming in," Corf says. "And we give them free health, and we give them everything. And then they expect more of it, and we can't afford more of it."
Still, most folks, including Corf, seemed to accept that Hispanics are here to stay. There was no organized opposition to the local resolution. In fact, the entire town council, police, the school superintendent, all support some sort of immigration reforms. They say that support is in part all about family values.
Six months ago, 17-year-old Edith's brother was pulled over by police. He was here illegally and was deported. Edith's full name is not used because she, too, is here illegally and lives with the same fear even though she has gone to school in Yuma since the second grade.
"I feel like I'm a Colorado girl," Edith says. "I've lived here all my life. This is what I know. This is what I've been raised in. This is the country that I love, that I cherish."
For town councilman Ebert, it's all about the dollars.
"I want to get the tax revenue," Ebert says. "I want to see them part of the economic community. Right now all they do is — they spend some money here. But they don't invest here."
Ebert says the town's resolution on immigration reform is intentionally vague. It's a national problem, he says, one that the president and Congress have to solve. Even so, Ebert's not optimistic that anything is going to change soon.