Federal agencies hinder visa process, grower says
DENVER — Colorado’s migrant worker laws are working just fine. It’s the federal government that’s the problem, Palisade fruit grower Bruce Talbott said.
So, seeing Utah legislators pass a law that does something more than just try to give illegal immigrants the boot is a welcomed change, said Talbott, president of Child and Migrant Services, a private program started by growers nearly a half-century ago to aid workers who come to the Grand Valley.
While Talbott isn’t necessarily advocating that Colorado approve a similar law, he said he was pleased to see a highly conservative state such as Utah not take the same unproductive hard line that Arizona did. That state made national headlines last year with a law requiring all law enforcement agencies to check the legal status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
In 2006, Colorado passed several immigrations laws that at the time were considered the toughest in the nation. They included one that requires law enforcement to check the legal status of suspects, but only after someone had been arrested for another crime. Rather than adopt the Arizona model, Utah followed Colorado’s lead.
Colorado’s new laws, however, had the unintended consequence of causing fewer legal migrant workers to come to the state.
As a result, the Colorado Legislature passed a seasonal-worker program two years later, but not one that allowed migrants to come to the state without first getting a federal visa. The program is designed to recruit migrant workers in their home countries, help them get visas and then match workers with actual Colorado employers.
Talbott said the state’s side of things is working just fine. Posing the problems, he said, are the U.S. Department of Labor, which oversees the agricultural worker program that Talbott and other growers use, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which issues visas to those workers. He said those federal agencies are too persnickety on the rules, barring employers from getting the people they need if they fail to comply with the tiniest of regulations.
“I’ve been very impressed with the state’s willingness to try to work the (federal program), but it’s the feds where the friction’s coming from,” Talbott said. “If it was left up to the state, we wouldn’t have a problem.”
That came as disappointing news to the legislator who dreamed up that state program.
Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, said she had hoped things would improve for Colorado growers, and she asked that they contact her directly to tell her what problems they’re seeing.
“I’ve been told the program is working fine, so this is the first time I’ve heard that the feds are being difficult to work with, but it doesn’t surprise me,” Looper said. “This program has become the model legislation for the nation. One of the (new) Utah laws is based on this.”
She said she would reach out to her federal contacts to see what can be done.
Still, Looper and Talbott said no matter what the states do, it continues to be a federal issue that only Congress can fix.
They said it could make headway if Congress focused first on the seasonal-worker issue, rather than at the same time trying to address border security and illegal immigrants who already are here.
Neither believes that will happen, though.
“The amnesty supporters know that the only thing they can hold hostage is the guest-worker program,” Talbott said. “If they can get the (federal visa program) to be completely unusable, they’re going to have a stronger stick when they ask for amnesty. That’s what I think is happening.”