No one would name El Paso County as a font of immigration reform. The Southern Colorado locality, where I-25 morphs into the Ronald Reagan highway, doesn’t exactly shine when it comes to welcoming our Mexican neighbors. At least two state delegates from the area belong to the border vigilante Minuteman group, which last year announced plans to alert Colorado Springs restaurant-goers that their food was being made by unvaccinated “aliens.”
Yet, in spite of all the immigration ire, one El Paso County representative is making strides to change that. Marsha Looper, a Republican from Calhan, recently hatched a plan to set up a state labor office in Mexico, where workers can hook up with Colorado businesses in need of employees.
Looper, who will likely introduce a related bill next session, envisions an office in Tijuana, where Mexican workers can submit temporary visa applications through a Colorado agent. The agent will dial up the state Department of Labor to find out who needs extra hands, and the migrants will be transported accordingly.
“It will be utilizing federal forms and processes but having an advocate there from the state saying, ‘Yes we need five immigrant workers in a peach field in Palisade,’” says Looper, who began research after her constituent farmers complained of a labor shortage.
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While it’s no surprise that Looper’s idea has generated some “rumblings” from fellow legislators (she wouldn’t say who), the fact that Looper took an interest in bringing immigrants here may come as a shocker to some. Looper, who was elected last November, ran on a largely anti-immigrant platform. She touted her Tancredo endorsement, backing Colorado’s restrictive laws to bar “aliens,” as she called them, from receiving state benefits.
But now, Looper seems to have changed her mind. She even recently sat down with her former political contender Ken Barela to discuss immigration. Barela runs a Colorado Springs business that helps guest workers get permits to work in the States.
Even so, Looper maintains that she hasn’t deviated from her campaign promises.
“I am against illegal immigration,” she says. “But at the same time I realize that we need migrant workers and we need to be able to streamline the process for any worker in any country to come work in Colorado.” -Naomi Zeveloff