After years of advocating for immigration reform, in the face of federal inaction, Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA) chair emeritus Warren Klug is hopeful legislation is on the way.
President Obama’s aides have signaled that comprehensive immigration reform is a top priority of his second term, likely to be rolled out after the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations conclude and a new gun control initiative.
While Klug’s efforts on behalf of resort employers seemed futile for much of his time lobbying legislators, after the November election, it appears Republicans and Democrats have been forced to fix a broken immigration system.
“Clearly the major Hispanic voting bloc has made a difference in how the politicians on both sides of the aisle look at the issue,” Klug said. “Also, people across the country see there needs to be a more humane way to deal with undocumented workers who are part of the fabric of our community. And employers are seeing that we need the people we need for jobs that are not in demand from other groups.”
Klug, general manager of Aspen Square Hotel and Condominums, said he thinks legislation would likely start with sealing the borders to stem the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico and extend current undocumented workers a path to citizenship.
Two years ago, as ACRA chair, Klug began actively lobbying lawmakers in both Denver and Washington to take action on reform that would give undocumented workers who hold labor-intensive jobs in hotels and other resort businesses a way to work legally.
In July of last year, after a meeting between local business leaders and White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes, he said immigrant-dependent resort businesses wouldn’t accept lawmakers putting off the issue anymore.
“The conventional wisdom is that nothing is going to happen for two years until after the  election,” Klug said at the time. “But I hope that we can get it off the back burner.”
In the time since, he’s led resort efforts on the issue, including working with Sen. Michael Bennet on “The Colorado Compact,” a non-binding document with a blueprint for immigration reform unveiled earlier this month.
The compact states Colorado law enforcement officials should focus on criminal activity, not enforcing civil immigration laws, among other principles. It calls for federal solutions to the immigration problem, to strengthen border security and simultaneously allow immigrants to continue working. It also specifically calls for policies that will not break up families through deportation.
The coalition supporting the compact includes bipartisan lawmakers, resort businesses, educators, farmers and law enforcement officials.
ACRA’s board endorsed the compact in May, following an Aspen Skiing Co. endorsement and a survey showing more than 70 percent of chamber members supported it.
Klug said he is hopeful that the White House and U.S. Congress will pick up the business- and family-friendly planks of the compact’s platform. Harsh state laws elsewhere in recent years, he said, have failed — and the feds have seen that.
“It’s clear that there’s more attention on the national level,” Klug said. “And states are looking at this as well. How are things working out in Arizona, Alabama and those places that passed stiff immigration laws on their own? Not very well, especially for employers.”