Immigration being met with increasing resentment

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As the number of immigrants grows, so does resentment from some native-born workers. And though these American citizens have deeply held beliefs, they are reluctant to share their views publicly.

Even politicians such as Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who fights in Congress for stricter immigration policies, said he often faces embarrassed silence when he addresses the topic on the floor of the House. This fear to come forward by one side of the immigration debate makes it difficult to have an honest or balanced discussion.

One local contractor shared his story, but he was afraid to give his name for fear of retaliation in the construction industry. He grew up here, he said. When he was young, people were willing to join a trade such as carpentry or masonry because the pay was good.

These days, the wages are falling because there are Mexicans willing to do the backbreaking work for one-third of the pay, he said.

He is losing work because other contractors who rely on cheaper migrant labor have vastly lower labor costs and can afford to submit lower bids on big projects.

In 10 years, while the cost of materials has gone up, the price people will pay for his services has gone down. He thinks he is being punished financially for hiring legal, native workers.

When he approached law enforcement officials about the issue, he was told that all hands were tied.

In 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was dissolved and a new entity was created, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, operating under the Department of Homeland Security.

The change was not in name alone.

ICE's priority is to protect the United States against terrorists entering the country illegally.

The work site enforcement sweeps commonly conducted by the INS at restaurants and construction sites suspected of employing undocumented workers are rare now. ICE is focused on protecting critical infrastructure from terrorist attacks by monitoring the immigration status of employees at possible targets -- power plants, oil refineries and airports, said Carl Rusnok, spokesman for the Central Region of ICE.

These days, the only way someone working in Routt County without proper documentation can be caught is if they break another law, Sheriff John Warner said. Routine traffic stops often turn into immigration cases.

Warner has worked for the Routt County Sheriff's Office since 1979 and became sheriff in 1995. In the past five years, he has watched the number of illegal immigrants in his jail grow at a rate he never could have predicted.

On June 6, the Routt County Jail was holding 11 undocumented workers for ICE.

According to Routt County Jail records, 68 people were held for ICE and deportation in 2004, but in 2005, that number was at 42 by the first week of June -- a per month increase of 50 percent.

Those numbers represent a growing cost to the taxpayer, Warner said.

The average person who is arrested can pay a bond to be released until his or her court date. An illegal alien cannot. Aliens must be held until their court date and then processed for deportation.

"It costs money to keep them in the jail," Warner said. "It's one thing to seal the border, but it's another thing to deal with them once they are here."

A "closed" border

Tancredo, whose name is at the center of the immigration debate, understands Warner's frustration.

Since he took office in 1998, Tancredo has been fighting for a closed border and harsher penalties for employers who hire illegal labor. He sees the United States' current immigration laws as a charade.

"We can control our borders, we just choose not to," he said.

Even as a new member of Congress, Tancredo spoke about immigration issues on the floor, pushing for reform. He was surprised to find how uncomfortable people on both sides of the party line were to talk about it -- until Sept. 11, 2001.

"After 2001, the immigration discussion changed, because the conversation about our borders was no longer about immigration. It was about terrorism," he said.

But even a fear of terrorism did not drive the United States to militarize its border as Tancredo had proposed. The border remains as porous as ever, he said, because too many businesses rely on illegal workers.

"Follow the money," he said. "People say they want the border closed, but they hire gardeners, housekeepers and nannies who are undocumented workers. They don't see the connection."

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