Small Colorado Town Calls For Immigration Reform
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Kirk Siegler of member station KUNC reports.
KIRK SIEGLER: Today, at least a quarter of Yuma's population is Hispanic, more if you factor in illegal immigrants.
(SOUNDBITE OF A VEHICLE)
SIEGLER: Steering his pickup onto a main street sprinkled with Hispanic-owned businesses and restaurants, Ralph Ebert says that's created a shadow economy here.
RALPH EBERT: They're afraid to open bank accounts. They're afraid to get involved because they don't want to be deported.
SIEGLER: Ebert is 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.
EBERT: They're on the edge, a lot of these people.
SIEGLER: 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: The majority of the people who apply are from Mexico, all right.
SIEGLER: Tom Holdorf, co-owns this feedlot east of town.
HOLDORF: If we had to rely on those that have legal papers only, I don't think - we'd have to close down. We couldn't find enough help.
SIEGLER: Holdorf says the immigrants he hires work hard, and if he could find enough help from Americans he would. But that argument doesn't wash with others in Colorado.
TOM TANCREDO: For years I have heard that particular refrain.
SIEGLER: Especially immigration reform opponents like former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo.
TANCREDO: We only hire these people because we can't get Americans to do it. Well, it's that's really only half of the statement that should be made. And it should go something like this: We hire illegal aliens because we can't get Americans to work for the wages that we pay illegal aliens.
SIEGLER: Dan Corf has a different set of reasons behind opposing immigration reform.
DAN CORF: We have too many people coming in and we give them free health. We give them everything. And then, you know, they expect more of it and we can't afford more of it.
SIEGLER: Still, most folks, including Corf, seem to accept that Hispanics are here to stay. There was no organized opposition to the local resolution. In fact, the entire town council, police, school superintendent, all support some sort of immigration reforms. They say that support is in part all about family values.
EDITH: My family has been split up now.
SIEGLER: Six months ago, 17-year-old Edith's brother was pulled over by police. He was here illegally and was deported. We're not using Edith's full name 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.
EDITH: I feel like I'm a Colorado girl. 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.
SIEGLER: For town councilman Ebert, it's all about the dollars.
EBERT: I want to get the tax revenue. I want to see them part of the economic community. Right now, the only thing they do is they spend some money here. But they don't invest here.
SIEGLER: For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler.
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