Colorado Springs immigration expert favors guest worker idea

Joe Dominguez, Multimedia Journalist - Pueblo Chieftain Bureau ,
POSTED: 10:46 PM MST Jan 31, 2013    UPDATED: 11:17 PM MST Jan 31, 2013 

Washington, D.C., is abuzz over immigration reform work under way in the Senate and backed by President Barack Obama. Meanwhile, in Colorado, one longtime cultural diversity professor calls the work a long time coming.

Jose Barrera is a former professor of ethnic studies at University of Colorado Colorado Springs. He's also a founding member of the original Colorado Springs Human Relations Commission four decades ago.

"This is not really a problem, this is a challenge that if we address it properly will strengthen our country, our economy and our society," said Barrera.

Barrera estimates there are 250,000 illegal immigrants in Colorado. He said they play a vital role in the economy.

"They're not on welfare, they're not getting food stamps -- they are paying taxes," said Barrera.

Under the new plan, they would pay even more in taxes and fines for being here illegally but there are also benefits.

"Many already pay into the income tax system and Social Security system with no benefits," said Barrera.

Barrera believes reform is necessary but isn't championing the working toward citizenship idea. He said most immigrants he's talked to aren't looking for citizenship.

"I've met many here, illegal immigrants, who have more than one job," said Barrera. "They do the kind of work Americans don't do."

Barrera said another benefit to reform would be to eliminate the need for a militarized border. He said under the current system, safety is being compromised.

"When you station tens of thousands of armed guards at the border, then you have the potential for a lot of  abuse," said Barrera.

He hopes issues like immigrants being cheated, robbed and dying in the desert will be a thing of the past with the passage of immigration reform.

"I am for a guest-worker program that works," said Barrera.