When it comes to the immigration debate, our neighbors in Greeley seem to be a magnet for bad press. First, there was the federal raid on a local meatpacking plant, in which hundreds of undocumented workers were arrested in front of their sobbing families. Then, last November, Mayor Tom Selders was ousted after a campaign that painted him as being too soft on illegal aliens.
Selders was replaced by a Jesse Ventura-sized ex-cop, Ed Clark, who doesn’t appear to be soft on anything. Recently, a fifteen-year-old boy accused Clark of slamming him into the ground because the boy wouldn’t get off his motor bike. But last night, a group of business owners and civic leaders known as The Greeley Group tried to show the city’s kinder face.
The Group's members invited former Denver Mayor Federico Peña to be the keynote speaker for a panel discussion about the perks of “legal” immigration. As Mayor Clark huffily pointed out beforehand, he was not asked to participate. And neither was anyone else who might be easily imagined body-slamming a Mexican busboy.
Peña began with a history lesson about the great contributions of American immigrants throughout the ages -- including the 30,000 people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan who, he said, were not previously U.S. citizens. Then University of Northern Colorado President Kay Norton talked about the importance of educating this next generation of citizens, while economic development expert Larry Burkhardt noted how much immigrants have helped the Weld County region grow. Meanwhile, Greeley Police Chief Jerry Garner pointed out that only a mere 17 or 18 percent of the people booked in the local jail admitted to being in the country illegally.
In sum, the mantra of the day was that immigrants -- whether by cleaning houses, building roads or offering kick-ass chile relleño recipes -- "make cities richer and more fun," Peña said. And Greeley’s not about to miss out. -- Lisa Rab