PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) — The president of the Colorado Farm Bureau said Wednesday fruit growers and ranchers are having some crops go unpicked and animals untended because they can’t get a dependable supply of field workers because of a stalemate over immigration reform.
At a meeting in Pueblo, Don Shawcroft said the U.S. Senate needs to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, a measure that House Republicans have rejected.
The issue is also on the minds of several Western Slope farmers, who would like to see a guest worker program.
Farmers and supportive community groups on the Western Slope got together Wednesday to talk about how a large part of their business is hiring workers that could benefit from the bill.
They said while they might not agree with every part of the bill that passed through the U.S. Senate, they hope the House will support some type of reform, and soon.
“We would like to be legal here,” said Antonio Gallegos, member of the Hispanic Affairs Project. “We want to be out of the shadows” and have the freedoms everyone else has so they can compete.
Bruce Talbott, farm manager for Talbott’s Mountain Gold, said his business is seasonal and he is always hiring new people to work in his fields.
“We need a guest-workers program that will allow us to bring in people from out of Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador and Guatemala,” he said.
Talbott said Colorado’s agriculture is a $40 billion dollar industry that hires nearly 200,000 employees.
Raymond owns one of only six dairy farms on the Western Slope. It’s an industry he says is shrinking, while the area’s population continues to grow.
“Our country was built on people who have come here from foreign countries,” said Carlyle Currier, vice president of Colorado Farm Bureau. “We need to continue that ability for people who are seeking freedom, who are seeking a better life for their families.”
Supporters note that U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado won election in 2008 in a conservative district by campaigning against an immigration overhaul. But an unfavorable redrawing of his district after the 2010 census left him in a Democratic-leaning territory that President Barack Obama won last year and where Hispanics make up nearly 20 percent of the population. He is now pushing for a “compassionate” approach to immigration.
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