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  • Writer's pictureVoces Unidas de las Montañas

Here to Work effort offers opportunity to expand labor pool

It’s hiring season in the High Country.

Winter tourism always brings an influx of visitors to the mountain resort communities of Vail, Beaver Creek, and the dozens of others Colorado is renowned for worldwide. As a result, hospitality workers are in high demand. Drivers, bellmen, bartenders, servers, housekeepers, hosts, concierges, salespeople, ski instructors — the list of jobs to be filled is never-ending.

Then again, when isn’t it? It’s no exaggeration to say there’s always work available in the Vail Valley. Winter, spring, summer, or fall, the Vail Daily’s job board is never barren. It’s more a matter of finding available workers.

The reality is that many of those workers are already here.

It’s no secret that Colorado is among the many states grappling with immigration challenges posed by a dysfunctional Congress that can’t seem to wrap its head around the issue. At the same time, the tightening labor market has created workforce shortages that have a significant impact on our local service-based economy. If jobs can’t be filled, services go undone, and that base crumbles.

Voces Unidas is one of more than 350 businesses, employers and organizations nationwide trying to fix the problem with what we consider a common-sense solution. The plan is not complicated: Immigrants come here to work. And they are ready to work. All we need is for the government to act.

Despite appearances, that “government action” piece is not complicated either — especially when it comes to the long-term immigrant contributors our “Here to Work” campaign is built around. These are the undocumented neighbors who have lived and worked in the shadows for far too long, the open secrets that give strength to the backbone of our economy as construction workers, agricultural workers, housekeepers, cooks, and in so many other ways.

Many have been ready to move up to better-paying positions or into fields with more opportunities for years, but their circumstances have kept them in low-wage jobs. Often, they are the so-called Dreamers, childhood immigrant arrivals who have grown up in our communities and graduated from our schools, yet still lack any clear path forward due to their uncertain status. Others may be part of a mixed-status family, at risk of separation from spouses and children. Whatever the history, they are eager to step out of the shadows and contribute to our workforce without fear.

These are families who have been left behind by every administration, but as we’ve witnessed with new arrival immigrants in recent months, President Biden has the ability to expand work authorization to all of them with the simple stroke of a pen.

The federal statute referred to as INA 212(d)(5)(A) grants the secretary of Homeland Security the discretionary authority to parole non-citizens into the U.S. temporarily, on a case-by-case basis, for urgent humanitarian reasons or “significant public benefit.” Already the Biden administration has granted a historic number of parole work permits to nearly a million Afghanis, Ukrainians, Venezuelans, and Cubans immigrating to the United States, and the same administrative tool can be used to catapult our nation out of its existing labor crisis while simultaneously providing immediate relief to long-term immigrant contributors.

The time to act is now.

Just before Thanksgiving, several local community leaders joined me and other members of Voces Unidas staff in Washington, D.C., for a march to the White House alongside more than 2,200 other immigrant rights advocates urging President Biden to use his discretionary authority to extend work permits to long-term immigrants.

Over the course of three days, we marched, rallied, trained national partners on our policy proposal, and met with members of Congress and White House staff to ensure we achieve our goal of work permits for all. Our coalition conducted visits with more than 270 bipartisan Congressional officials to press for action on an issue that is so important and so personal to so many of us.

Just a few weeks before, we were joined by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser for a similar rally at the State Capitol Building in Denver. Here to Work has the support of Gov. Polis and recently some 48 U.S. House Representatives signed on in support of the campaign, including Colorado Reps. Brittany Pettersen (CO-07) and Jason Crow (CO-06).

Since February, the Here to Work coalition has rallied more than 350 businesses, Republican and Democratic governors, and members of Congress to urge the Biden administration to take action on this issue. Those businesses are no different than any in this valley. They need workers, and they recognize that we are here to work. We invite the local business community to join us in this growing movement as we all do our part to ensure President Biden does his.

Alex Sánchez is the founder and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, nonprofit organizations working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties. His column appears monthly.


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