Immigrants are an important work base in Western Colorado and there is no place more reliant on these workers than the Roaring Fork area from Aspen to Parachute. Documented or not, immigrants are hired for construction, retail, hotel, restaurants, ski areas, drilling rigs and nursing homes throughout this valley where the Latino population estimates range from 20% to 30%.
So when the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency conducted a two-day raid, “Operation Return to Sender” this week to capture undocumented workers in the Roaring Fork area, it caused a ripple effect all the way to the building industry in Rifle. “We are very concerned about recent state legislation and ICE activities in our area,” said builder Sally Brands of Savage Land Company in Rifle at a recent Latino community meeting in Glenwood Springs. She felt that after the raids, Latinos whether they were documented or not, didn’t show up for work in fear of being harassed.
“When we can’t pour concrete, the electricians and carpenters don’t work. When they don’t work, a house does not get built,” Brands explained. “If we don’t have migrant workers, our business doesn’t slow-it stops.”
Brands noted that kids coming out of high school aren’t into manual labor. “We wouldn’t have construction workers here if it weren’t for the Latinos,” she said. “It’s not like we can hire a farm boy out of Iowa to come and pour concrete,” she added. “First of all, he wouldn’t find a place to live nor would he be able to afford it even if he did eventually find it. And he’s not going to live in a rental with 10 other people.”
With housing shortages now in an “acute” stage in the Roaring Fork area, there is literally no way to import workers to fill in the gaps of the labor deficiencies. So if something happens to impact Latino workers, there is a ripple effect throughout this region.
Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison also attended the special Latino community event. She noted that with six ski areas in her district, she heard a lot of complaints from them during the summer’s special immigration legislative session. “The fear is that without immigrant workers, the hospitality industry will be severely impacted,” she said.
She looked into how Colorado could increase the guest worker permits but found that’s strictly up to the federal government. “Right now there is only 65,000 permits released a year. That’s a joke considering the demand for this labor force in this valley alone,” Curry commented.