I am the owner and operator of a large, northern Colorado-based organic family farm. For me, it is imperative that we solve the immigration issue. The American farming industry is completely dependent on migrant farm hands. Without immigrant workers, crops wouldn’t be picked and packaged; food wouldn’t make its way to supermarket shelves for our families to purchase at affordable prices. In fact, farming in the United States would largely disappear without immigrant workers.
A truly important event just took place in Salt Lake City on Oct. 26 – the Mountain West Summit: Forging a New Consensus on Immigrants and America. This summit gathered prominent business, faith, law enforcement and government leaders from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho together to think about pragmatic ways to solve our immigration challenges.
Although participants came from different states and perspectives, they were able to find common ground on the issue of immigration, by agreeing that the Mountain West’s economy has been strengthened by hard-working immigrants who have provided essential labor in crucial sectors of our local economies.
In Colorado, for example, immigrants contribute to the critical workforce needed to harvest our crops, tend our livestock, and feed our families; and they contribute to the critical workforce in other state employment sectors as well, often filling jobs within the construction, hospitality and manufacturing sectors that are difficult to fill with American-born citizens. Furthermore, immigrants pay income, property and sales taxes; and they have revitalized local economies by spending their wages and opening new businesses as well.
While several Mountain West states confront the challenge of finding the right policies to effectively deal with the immigration issue, some Southeastern states have opted for a deportation-only approach to immigration. Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina enacted tough immigration legislation this year; however, rather than inching us closer to a federal immigration solution, these laws have led to rotting crops, prohibitively expensive lawsuits and disrupted state economies.
The Georgia legislature enacted this year a strident immigration law meant to drive unauthorized immigrants out of the state, punish businesses that hire unauthorized immigrants and burden local police officers with federal immigration responsibilities. Just a few months after enactment of the Georgia immigration law, the Georgia Agribusiness Council estimated that economic damage for the 2011 growing season will fall between $300 million and $1 billion. In Alabama, worried farmers complain of labor shortages and crops dying on the vine after the approval of the toughest immigration law in the nation. These numbers demonstrate that the immigration approach of the Southeast does not serve the interests of the Mountain West or the country. The Mountain West region cannot afford losses of this magnitude. Federal action to fix the immigration process, spurred by a change in the way immigrants are valued in the U.S., is the only solution to our broken immigration system.
So, what can we as citizens of Colorado do about these problems? First, we can take a lesson from our neighbors in Utah, who have already forged a consensus on immigration and adopted the Utah Compact. This document affirms principles essential to fixing the immigration system through reform. It calls for a federal solution rather than a state-based, patchwork approach. The Compact upholds respect for the rule of law and asserts that local law enforcement should focus on true threats to their communities instead of becoming de facto federal immigration officers. The Compact supports policies that keep families together and affirms the fundamental belief that our country is best served by a free-market philosophy that maximizes individual freedom and opportunity. The Compact supports the idea that immigrants – as workers, taxpayers and homeowners – play a role in our country’s prosperity.
We left the Mountain West Summit agreeing that the way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors. America was founded as a welcoming land of opportunity and we should honor that by coming together in a new regional and national consensus on the value of immigrants and immigration for America.
Andy Grant is the president of Grant Family Farms in Wellington.