The Big Chill

Like California's frozen citrus fields, the immigration issue has gone cold to many people. But it's still hot to Helen Krieble, profiled in this story, as well as people in this country illegally who might benefit from her ideas if they're ever adopted on a wide scale.

People like Ismael, for example. When the money runs low back home, Ismael sneaks up here from Mexico. He'd prefer to come legally, but he doesn't have a snowball's chance in Mexico of getting a visa, so instead Ismael pays a smuggler up to $2,000 to get him across the border.

Of the $6,000 he earned from May to November last year, when his job ended along with this state's agricultural season, $5,000 went back to Ismael's wife and kids in Mexico. The remainder carried Ismael through a 45-day spell of unemployment. And just when the money was running out, Ismael found temporary work planting trees in a Colorado nursery last Thursday.

"It pays a little more than the fields, but it doesn't pay for my housing," he said. Still, rather than return to Mexico and risk sneaking back across the border in a few months (and paying a coyote again), Ismael's toughing out this cold Colorado winter. He'd rather be with his family, but he plans to stay until he's earned enough to buy his daughter a computer.

Krieble, who runs an equestrian center in Parker, would like to put an end to illegal workers in this country -- and she thinks that embracing guest workers is the way to do so. Her idea, which created quite the buzz in the last Congress, would replace the relatively few worker visas issued each year with a major guest-worker program run by private industry. Not only would this provide the labor to do jobs that Americans don't seem to want to do, but it reduce the flow of illegal immigrants across the border and ease tensions on the front line, so that the U.S. Border Patrol can watch for terrorists instead of Ismaels.

But with the Democrats now holding both houses, Krieble is concerned that lawmakers will turn a deaf ear to her plan. "The answer to illegals in this country is not a convoluted path to citizenship, jumping in front of other people," she says. "It's a guest worker visa, it's a quick and easy path to being legal as a guest worker. I'm very frightened that the Democrats will try to piecemeal this, that they'll let all of the illegals have an amnesty of some kind. The complete look at a guest worker program and border security and helping the illegals to currently become legal workers is not the program that's on their minds." -- Luke Turf

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun