Tuesday, December 12, 2000
Steamboat Springs Immigrants are just like anyone else, Jack Mudry told a Steamboat Springs audience Tuesday. They dream of a better future.
The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, recognizing that an increasing percentage of the local work force is coming from abroad, hosted Mudry's speech at the Sheraton Steamboat as part of a "Business 2 Business" luncheon.
"They've come here with a dream," Mudry said. "They've made a hard sacrifice to establish a new life in America."
Mudry works for a Pitkin County-based business, "Community Communications." The company conducts programs for employers and institutions to help them help their employees from abroad integrate into American society. The program has a straightforward title: "How to Live in America."
For someone who grew up in a small village in Mexico or west Africa, everything about getting along in the United States is potentially bewildering, Mudry said. From coping with the legal system, to enrolling one's children in school, it's all foreign.
The presence of foreign nationals in the work force may be particularly pronounced in Colorado ski towns, Community Communications founder Gustavo Heredia said, but it is part of a global trend.
"We're seeing it in all the major industrial nations," Mudry said. "In the United States, Japan and Europe you have a decline in population growth, an aging population and a scarcity of both skilled and unskilled labor. That is not going to change."
The result is that more and more people from developing nations are seeking visas that allow them to work in the industrial powers. It will continue because of the "push and the pull," Mudry said the push to escape poverty, and the pull of jobs that go unfilled.
One of the toughest challenges for immigrant workers in Colorado is becoming qualified to drive a car or truck, Mudry said. Colorado now requires a social security number (something that's difficult if not impossible for a foreign national to acquire) in order to get a driver's license. The requirement was established to help the state track welfare abuse, Mudry said. But one of the consequences is that it's hard for immigrant workers to get the driver's license they need to get to work, and in some cases, perform their jobs.
Community Communications advises clients to turn to car pooling to avoid an arrest for driving without a license. In some cases, they even advise them to seek a driver's license in Kansas, where the requirements aren't so strict.
Although immigrant workers aren't more prone to criminal behavior than the rest of the population, sometimes they run afoul of the law because they are unfamiliar with the American system, Mudry said. A foreign national, raised in a culture where physical punishment of children is the norm, can easily run afoul of social agencies without understanding the reason, for example. And the instance of a foreign national who drives without a license, then gets into deeper trouble for failing to appear in court, is commonplace.
Among the most successful programs operated by Community Communications is one that is helping nine Colorado counties, including neighboring Eagle County, reduce the number of foreign nationals who are making repeat appearances in court.
Community Communications founder Gustavo Heredia convinced local judges that an inordinate number of Latinos were making repeat appearances in local courts on minor traffic offenses simply because they didn't understand what a judge had required of them.
Heredia proposed teaching Hispanic immigrants an intensive three-hour class on "How to Live in America." Students who complete the course see a reduction in the points put on their driving record, and statistics show the course has reduced the number of Spanish speaking people who find themselves returning to court a second time.
Mudry said ultimately, in order to become a multicultural community, longtime residents of mountain communities and immigrant employees need more contact with one another.
"The experience that is most valuable is being with people every day and rubbing shoulders with them," Mudry said. "Once they see your good will, they will open up to you."