We tend to look past them, not at them.
New faces are appearing in Northwest Colorado. But even as their numbers grow and their presence becomes increasingly noticeable at work, on the ranch and in class, we locals try our hardest not to look. We tend to maintain our distance, recognizing them only enough to wonder among ourselves where they live, why they are here and whether their presence will hurt our own children's education or stymie our overburdened social services.
In the past decade, the number of Mexican and Latin American immigrants in Northwest Colorado has grown. The pace has picked up exponentially in the past five years.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today and Craig Daily Press embark today on a joint six-week reporting project. In these six weeks, we will examine in words and pictures who these immigrants are, the forces that cause them to leave their homes for jobs in this area, the effects their growing numbers are having on governmental systems, and how they are assimilating in Northwest Colorado.
To understand the forces that bring them north looking for work, and the struggles they face to reach typically low-paying jobs in a strange land, the newspapers sent a three-person team to Mexico and the border states. They interviewed immigrants who have returned home to Mexico from Northwest Colorado. They interviewed members of the U.S. Border Patrol and other border-state officials. They learned about the issues involved in maintaining the thin fence along the border and all that it stands for.
Back at home, the reporters spoke to employers and employees about the pros and cons of immigrant labor. They spoke to government, school and health officials about the strains on the system created by a new and largely undocumented and uninsured population.
They spoke with immigrants about the way they live here, the community they are creating and the ways they have assimilated -- or chosen not to assimilate -- into local culture.
Beginning this week, we hope to share with our readers what we discovered: A complex phenomenon with social, political and economic repercussions that are blurred by preconceptions and hypocrisy.
The debate over this new wave of immigration already has begun. Through this series, we hope to share with readers balanced viewpoints and the information needed to continue that debate from an educated place.
We will conclude the series with a community roundtable at 6 p.m. July 18 in the Steamboat Pilot & Today conference room. Members from all Northwest Colorado communities are encouraged to attend and share their views on this issue and how it should be handled in the future, realizing the wave isn't likely to ebb.
It's time to recognize the wave and the people who comprise it, both as a powerful new socioeconomic force in Northwest Colorado and as individuals with their own hopes and challenges. It's time to look at them, not past them.