Guest Wishes

Helen Krieble wants to end all the horsing around over illegal immigration.

A muddy path leads up to the equestrian center, where Batman, Spider-Man, pirates and princesses trick-or-treat through a haunted horse stable.

Looking up from one of the 130 trash cans he's been dealing with all day, 52-year-old Antonio Hernandez Acave smiles at the fun, then returns to his job. He grabs the overflowing garbage bag and lifts it out of the can, ties the ends together, then pulls a replacement bag out of his back pocket. Whipping it open in the wind, he relines the can.

Although Hernandez has his hands full in Colorado, his mind is already on home.

Helen Krieble is standing tall in the immigration-reform 
Anthony Camera
Helen Krieble is standing tall in the immigration-reform movement.

When the party's over at the Colorado Horse Park in Parker, after all the kids have gone home to eat their candy, Hernandez will break down the folding chairs and tables he helped set up earlier. He'll empty and clean the port-a-potties, tend to the trash cans once more, stroll the grounds looking for any loose garbage. He may shovel some horseshit, too.

And then Hernandez will go back to the trailer that has been a temporary home for him and several other workers, including his 26-year-old son, since they arrived at the facility this spring. With the season finally over, Hernandez will fill his two backpacks and grab the little television he brought with him, and then he and his son will head for the bus.

Forty-eight hours later, they'll be back in Veracruz, Mexico.

But if Hernandez's God and his boss, Helen Krieble, are willing, next year he'll return to Colorado.

For years now, Krieble has hired people from outside the country to do the horse park's worst work. She always looks for American workers first, but few seem to want these low-paying, far-from-glorious jobs. Plenty of illegal immigrants apply every year, but Krieble refuses to break the law by hiring them.

"We need a guest-worker program, badly, to eliminate all these illegal people who are coming in here," Krieble says. "Then we wouldn't need that damn fence that they're building on the border."

Krieble opts to import laborers from Mexico -- legally. The process is a bureaucratic headache that eats up dollars and time, both for Krieble's staff and the state and federal government officials charged with monitoring the program. And at any point along the way, a prospective worker could fall through the cracks for something as simple as folding a form wrong. But right now, Krieble says, she has no choice if she wants to do things the right way.

She knows there's a better way. And rather than wait for the government to propose a guest-worker plan, Krieble has come up with her own proposal. It's caught the attention of not just Governor Bill Owens, but also senators and representatives. From her equestrian center in Parker, the 63-year-old Krieble has even gained the ear of presidential advisors. But are they really listening?

During World War II, when the United States was sending all of its able-bodied men overseas, hundreds of thousands of American jobs were left empty. In desperate need of workers, the government looked south to fill the vacancies, and the Bracero program was born.

Millions of braceros -- named for the strong arms they provided -- left their families behind in Mexico and headed for the border, where they filled out an English-language contract that few of them could read. From there, they moved on to jobs around the country, mostly picking crops and laying rails. Even after the war ended, the program continued for another twenty years.

Today, more than forty years after the program's demise, some Colorado farmers still get nostalgic about the braceros whenever the immigration debate comes up. But the memories of the workers themselves are not so fond. Many say they lived in horrid conditions and had little or no rights. Under the program, every worker had 10 percent of his wages withheld; the money was supposed to go into a retirement plan back in Mexico. The funds were transferred down south, but not a dime ever made it into the hands of the braceros or their families, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in 2001.

Helen Krieble wasn't hiring workers in those days. She learned what it was like to be a guest worker in a foreign country when her then-husband got a job with a chemical company in Japan in the '70s. Krieble moved there with him, and they put their toddlers in Japanese nurseries, ate Japanese food, shopped in Japanese stores, watched Japanese movies and lived a Japanese life.

In 1985, Krieble was living in Connecticut, the head of an art gallery. That's when she and an aunt founded the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation, named for Krieble's grandfather, a chemist who perfected a sealant for metal parts. It kept nuts and bolts tight, and also allowed for the efficient confinement of liquid. With this invention as its base, Vernon Krieble and his son founded a corporation that grew to be the giant Loctite, which is still operating in eighty countries today, selling sealants for everything from snowboard screws to cars, computers, cell phones, vacuums, space shuttles and airplanes.

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