Cutting through red tape can be a problem

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Cattle rancher and Moffat County Commissioner Darryl Steele has been bringing temporary workers from Mexico to work on his ranch for almost a decade.

Usually, the paperwork and federal regulations that guide immigration don't present a problem for Steele and his workers.

But this year, when Steele tried to bring a family of three from Mexico to work on his cattle ranch near Maybell, the paperwork got snagged in a web of federal bureaucracy.

"I think the system's broke," Steele said from his Moffat County Commissioners Office last month.

Steele has brought the same Mexican cattleman to work on his ranch for five years.

This year, when the man, his wife and newborn child were supposed to cross the border, border agents wouldn't let them.

The paperwork confirming their legal status was supposed to arrive in Juarez, Mexico, by April 15, the day the family was supposed to cross.

But the paperwork wasn't there when the family showed up.

Because of a mishap at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, formerly part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the family's papers ended up in Kentucky, thousands of miles from the border crossing where the family idly waited.

Rather than send the family back to their ranch south of Chihuahua City, Mexico, Steele put them in a hotel in Chihuahua City.

"I kept them in Chihuahua City for a week thinking I would get this straightened out quickly," Steele said.

After a week, it became clear to Steele that the worker and his family wouldn't be in Moffat County anytime soon.

Steele spent three weeks calling the USCIS trying to get the paperwork to the border.

"I never talked to the same person twice," he said.

After three weeks, the paperwork was sent from Kentucky to a USCIS office in Nebraska, where it sat for another two weeks.

Meanwhile, Steele said, he could have brought the family across the border illegally in just a few days.

"I bring them up legally and don't want to go outside the system," Steele said. "But the temptation is certainly there."

Kandy Kropinak, an employment specialist with the work force center in Craig, agreed. Kropinak has worked to bring temporary agricultural workers from Mexico to Northwest Colorado for more than 20 years.

"It would be 10 times easier to use illegals," she said.

But, Kropinak said if someone crosses the border illegally and gets caught, they run the risk of never being able to work in America legally.

Finally, after daily phone calls to the USCIS and a few calls to his congressman, Steele's worker and his family crossed the border, 45 days after their scheduled arrival.

Steele estimates the hold-up cost him at least $2,000 and cost his worker almost two months in wages.

"It was like nobody cared," Steele said. "Nobody said, 'Wow, you've got a problem, let's try to fix it.'"

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031 or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com

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