A nationwide boycott -- called A Day Without Immigrants -- had little impact across the Yampa Valley on Monday. With limited exceptions, most area businesses reported all of their employees showed up for work.
But across the nation, participation was more significant. Estimates are that 400,000 people marched in Chicago, and 300,000 protested in Los Angeles. Denver reported a demonstration involving about 75,000 people. In Houston, 30,000 took to the streets. Even in Vail, there was a demonstration involving hundreds of people.
Boycott organizers' message was that immigrants -- legal and illegal -- play an important role in the American economy. We agree and continue to think that true immigration reform should account for this reality by including a guest-worker component.
Guest-worker program opponents see little room for such a compromise. From their perspective, illegal immigrants are criminals who steal jobs from and lower wages for American workers. They see illegal immigrants as a financial drain on our education and health care systems. And they think that illegal immigration contributes to higher crime rates and other social costs.
To some degree, all of that is true. Still, the benefits of a guest worker program, in our estimation, outweigh the costs.
Central American immigrants do not come here for free health care or other social services. Rather, they come for the opportunity to earn wages that are five or 10 times more than what they can earn in their native countries. They come to work here because the American economy continues to have enough jobs for them and for its own workers.
Despite the presence of an estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants nationwide, U.S. unemployment was just 4.6 percent in March. And despite the rapid increase in immigrants in Colorado, the state's unemployment rate is at its lowest point in five years -- 4.3 percent -- and is the same as it was 10 years ago.
Those numbers underscore that immigration will continue as long as America's economy can absorb the new workers. It will continue so long as there are jobs that native-born Americans won't do for the wages that are being offered.
Immigration reform is the most pressing issue facing our country. The U.S. House passed a bad bill late last year -- focused almost exclusively on law enforcement and penalties -- that has spawned most of the protests that we have seen in recent months, including Monday's. The Senate put forth a more sensible approach that included a guest-worker program, but that legislation has stalled.
A guest-worker program would allow immigrants to fill much-needed jobs in the U.S., pay their share of taxes, obtain health insurance and go home knowing that they will be able to return for work. It would allow the U.S. government to better document who is here and why. It would reduce the incentive that drives the worst element in the illegal immigration issue -- human smugglers.
We fully support legislative efforts to better secure our southern border. Investing in additional personnel, equipment and training for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement is vital, especially in a post-Sept. 11 world.
But better enforcement on the border does not address the continued economic interdependence between the U.S. and our neighbors to the south. A guest-worker program is the most logical reform option on the table, and it shouldn't take "A Day Without Immigrants" to make that clear.