Local leaders renew calls for reforms to immigration

by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
A panel of Roaring Fork Valley business and civic leaders in Aspen on Thursday — including two registered Republicans — called on Rep. Scott Tipton to help pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition organized the morning press conference, in hopes of bringing immigration reform back to the forefront following the government shutdown.

Speakers included Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron, Aspen Skiing Co. sustainability director Matt Hamilton, Mark Gould, owner of Gould Construction, Warren Klug, general manager of the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel and Pitkin County commissioners Rachel Richards and Steve Child.

They all said immigration reform — which would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents, strengthen border security, revamp the guest worker program and put new employment-verification standards in place — is a moral and economic imperative for the Roaring Fork Valley.

“I hope that Scott Tipton can find the compromises necessary for broad-minded leadership, and isn’t just serving a constituency of — as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman described — old white people who have a knee-jerk resistance to immigration reform that grows from anxiety about the changing color and demographics of America,” Skadron said.

Hamilton said the SkiCo relies on immigrants to run its hotels, ski schools and tune shops. The number of native-born job seekers looking to work for the company has declined 30 percent in the last few years, he said, as the economy has improved.

Gould and Klug, both Republicans, said they have had conversations with Tipton, arguing the case for immigration reform, which would benefit both of their businesses.

 Chris Council/Aspen Daily News
Local elected officials and members of the business community met on Thursday morning at the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel to speak at a press conference encouraging U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, the Republican who represents the county, to move forward with immigration reform. From left to right: Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron; Matt Hamilton, sustainability director at the Aspen Skiing Co.; Mark Gould, owner of Gould Construction, Inc.; and Pitkin County Commissioner Steve Child.

Gould reported that the congressman was “gray” on the topic. It’s about “convincing him that 51 percent of his constituents think this needs to be done,” Gould said.

“We need to stop letting the far right wing of the party hijack what is right for America,” he said.

According to a statement from Tipton’s spokesman Josh Green, “Tipton firmly believes that Congress must address immigration reform in this country — verifiable border security and a strengthened guest-worker program are two vital steps among others to permanently fixing the problems facing our immigration system and ensuring that we don’t end up here again in 20 years with the same challenges.

“Furthermore, Congressman Tipton believes that we can all have compassion, and should, for children brought here through no accord of their own. To that end, the House is currently in the process of working on a reform plan, that through a step-by-step approach (which Congressman Tipton favors), would fix our country’s immigration system,” Green wrote in an email.

The statement did not address Tipton’s position on what should be done with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country — people who according to Klug are propping up the economy in many sectors, including the resort industry. If all 11 million suddenly were unable to work, the result would be economic collapse, he said.

Undocumented or not, that demographic deserves dignity and respect, said Richards.

“A valley like ours, which has had the resort demand for so many years, really has an overload ... of those people who deserve to come out of the shadows, be legitimized and be able to work and hold their heads high and proud in this community,” Richards said.