Mexican tourism and immigration have long been powerful economic drivers in the resort counties former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis used to represent in Congress. Now some Western Slope residents are worried gubernatorial candidate McInnis will destroy that dynamic.
A significant portion of the destination skier markets at Vail and Beaver Creek, posh ski resorts McInnis once represented in the 3rd Congressional District, is made up of wealthy Mexican and South American tourists, who may go elsewhere if the Republican is elected and makes good on his pursuit of a Colorado immigration law similar to the one recently adopted in Arizona.
Immigration rights groups have condemned McInnis for comments he made on a conservative radio program Wednesday, but political observers in the high country wonder if McInnis even considered the possible economic implications for his former constituents.
“A big part of the 3rd CD, which he used to represent, is agriculture and tourism, and both markets are heavily dependent on immigrant workers, HB-1 visas and green-card workers, so it was a serious part of his district economically, and yet I don’t ever recall him stepping forward with a solution when he was in office,” said Debbie Marquez, a Mexican restaurant owner in Edwards, a town about 15 miles west of Vail.
Such guest worker programs have been held up by the lack of congressional action on immigration reform, presenting significant hiring challenges for the Colorado ski industry in recent years. But Mexican tourists also pump significant dollars into the state’s tourism tax coffers, and Arizona now faces a slew of potential boycotts because of its “toughest-in-the-land” new law.
“The Mexican tourism market really helped us in the resort this year during another down year and extended the ski season so we had better numbers than I was expecting at the end of March and early April,” said Marquez. “The economic impact [of an Arizona-style law in Colorado] would be severe.”
The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a travel alert to Mexican nationals, students or tourists traveling or living in Arizona, warning them to carry proof of citizenship or risk being harassed by police, who now are directed to detain people if there is “reasonable suspicion” they are in the country illegally.
“Under the new law, foreigners who do not carry the immigration documents issued to them when entering the United States may be arrested and sent to immigration detention centers,” the travel alert reads.
“Carrying the available documentation, even before the law comes into force, will help avoid needless confrontations. As long no clear criteria are defined for when, where and who the authorities will inspect, it must be assumed that every Mexican citizen may be harassed and questioned without further cause at any time.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a statement on behalf of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, decrying the new law and advocating for immigration reform:
“The Arizona immigration law will likely hinder federal law enforcement from carrying out its priorities of detaining and removing dangerous criminal aliens. With the strong support of state and local law enforcement, I vetoed several similar pieces of legislation as governor of Arizona because they would have diverted critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermined the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve.”
Marquez, also a Democratic National Committeewoman, said McInnis is engaged in a cynical political ploy.
“McInnis is being threatened by his opponent for the Republican primary [Evergreen businessman Dan Maes],” she said. “Indications are that both candidates will end up on the ballot at the Republican assembly, so McInnis has to do something to make himself appeal to the conservative base.”
Also Wednesday, state Sen. Dave Schultheis (R-Colorado Springs) blasted U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder), who now represents Vail and Beaver Creek in the 2nd Congressional District, for comments he made comparing Arizona to a police state where immigrants will be treated like second-class citizens the ways Jews were treated in Nazi Germany prior to World War II.
“The fact is we already have that system in existence here,” said Marquez. “The people that are undocumented in this country and in Colorado are already living it. Jared’s just stating his beliefs. He’s a moral person. He’s an ethical person and he’s vocal about his opinion on the class system and he puts his money where his mouth is.”
Polis founded the New America Schools in Colorado and New Mexico, charter schools that teach English to new immigrants.
Wednesday, Polis issued the following statement at a press conference denouncing the new Arizona law and calling for comprehensive immigration reform, which would include some level of amnesty and a guest worker program:
“The American people want action on immigration reform. The people of Arizona want action, the people of Colorado want action. The people of America are frustrated, rightfully so—frustrated with widespread violations of the law, with lack of border security. What is national sovereignty if we don’t even know who’s here and there’s millions of violations of the law every day?
“But it is Congress that needs to act to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The people of Arizona want a solution. They have sunken to desperate and unconstitutional means and have sent a signal to us, here in the Capitol, to take action to fix this important issue. It should take no courage for members of Congress to support immigration reform.
“It would take blind courage to oppose or refuse to act on immigration reform, because the people of this country want us to fix this issue and fix this problem. And if the American Congress fails to act, the people of this country and the people of Arizona will elect a Congress that will solve this issue.”