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Fallout from Failed Immigration Policy

Opinion Editorial
December 19, 2006

By Amy Oliver

I live in Greeley. I love everything about it – the people, the politics, the culture, yes, even the smell, which by the way has been outlawed, well almost.

I have a daily, two-hour talk show on Greeley’s own 1310 KFKA, the oldest radio station in Colorado. Mostly, I focus on local, regional and state issues. Of all the issues I’ve covered, few are as divisive as illegal immigration. Our agricultural industry attracts a substantial number of immigrants both legal and illegal. As residents of Greeley and Northern Colorado we must grapple with the difficult reality of two different cultures that are bound to collide – not Anglo versus Latino but legal versus illegal.

Current U.S. immigration policy is unenforceable and incompatible with today’s economy. Market forces act as a magnet for immigrants, but immigration policy makes it difficult for them to enter the U.S. in a timely and legal fashion. With unsecured borders, many are willing to enter illegally, as estimates of nearly 12 million illegal immigrants residing in the U.S. proves. Some make their way to Greeley to work in the Swift meat processing plant.

We are a nation based on the rule of law, placing trust in our Constitution and those sworn to uphold it. Greeley is no exception. We are fortunate to have superior law enforcement with both the Greeley Police Department and the Weld County Sheriff’s Office. However the reality of illegal immigration, and our tolerance of it, encourages disrespect for the rule of law and puts local law enforcement in an impossible situation. Local police and Sheriff’s deputies reside in the community in which they cannot enforce U.S. immigration policy which results in a loss of trust. They often get criticized from both sides of the illegal immigration debate.

Illegal immigration, and our tolerance of it, creates a market for forged, false and stolen documents. The demand for social security numbers, birth certificates and state identification leads to identity theft. Working with stolen documents is not a victimless crime; it shatters lives. Thousands of legal residents spend years trying to clean up credit reports and sometimes criminal records with little hope of retribution.

Illegal immigration, and our tolerance of it, creates an underground culture – a group of people living in the shadows because they chose not to reside legally. They often don’t assimilate. They live in a constant state of risk – risk of deportation, risk of jail, risk of losing everything for which they have worked – and they raise children in this environment. The community educates these children with mixed messages of respecting the rule of law while tolerating the lack of enforcement. This environment is the antithesis of the American Dream that so many immigrants want to pursue.

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, December 12, authorities from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with assistance from the Greeley Police Department and the Weld County Sheriff’s office raided the Swift plant in Greeley and took into custody nearly 300 illegal aliens. Some were arrested for the serious criminal charge of identity theft, while others were arrested for re-entering the U.S. illegally for a second time. ICE authorities and the illegal aliens were gone by 1:00 p.m., but Greeley still is reeling from decades of a failed U.S. immigration policy that created two cultures – one legal and one illegal.

With the help of KFKA staff, I covered live last week’s raid on the Swift meat processing plant. Covering the raid was both heart breaking and satisfying. Calls to my program showed that legal residents – both Latino and Anglo – took comfort knowing that the laws of our nation and community were enforced. Still the emotional pleas of family members with loved one being taken away were moving and difficult to hear.

Illegal immigration, and our tolerance of it, breaks down the fabric of society. We must secure our borders and reform immigration policy to reflect today’s market forces. While Congress is out of session having done little besides talk about reforming current failed immigration policy, Greeley must deal with the fallout of two cultures – one legal, one illegal, and a guarantee that there will be more days like last Tuesday.