Illegal immigration on the rise in Western Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY – The journey to North Carolina for 20 illegal immigrants stopped short outside Wolcott last week.It’s likely they were destined for work on a farm, similar to the droves of smuggled humans crossing through Eagle County and Colorado each day bound for work in factories and agriculture, the Colorado State Patrol says. And the state patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can’t keep up.About 200 illegals pass through Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties each month, State Patrol Sgt. Shawn Olmstead said. Across the state, nearly 530 illegals are discovered each week by the patrol, not to mention a similar number slipping through, said Master Trooper Ron Watkins.”It’s definitely a problem for us, and it’s taxing on our resources,” Watkins said.The patrol is keeping tabs on two Colorado Senate bills designed to make both the trafficking of humans and the smuggling of illegal immigrants felonies. If passed, the laws might deter the ringleaders of these smuggling operations from sending illegals across Colorado’s borders, Watkins said.”If there’s a law in Colorado making it a felony for these people smuggling and trafficking it will deter them … for fear of getting caught,” he said.Part of the immigration enforcement agency’s job is to pick up illegals discovered by the state patrol. Carl Rusnok, ICE spokesman, refused to comment on pending legislation.Senate bills 206 and 207, primarily sponsored by Sen. Peter Groff, are headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee after unanimously passing the Senate Judiciary on March 20.Several incidents on March 20 and 21 on state roads highlighted just how many illegal immigrants are passing through Colorado. More than 100 illegal Mexican immigrants were detained after six accidents on Interstates 70 and 76, the Rocky Mountain News reported.None of the drivers of the six vehicles found last week were arrested because of a lack of evidence, the Rocky Mountain News reported.The 20 illegal immigrants headed to North Carolina were found packed like sardines into a Chevy Astro Van by the state patrol, Olmstead said. “I suspect they were going to farming communities,” Olmstead said. Thirteen more illegals were discovered in Glenwood Canyon the same day, he added.All the illegals were later picked up by ICE agents, who are often unable to pick up the immigrants, Watkins said. He said he estimates the agents pick up 70 percent to 75 percent of the illegal immigrants – the rest are turned loose. Long drive times, other duties, and lack of available agents and detention space keep the agency from picking up all illegals, Rusnok said.”Whenever it is possible for us – on a priority basis – we do respond,” Rusnok said.The ringleaders in smuggling operations – often called “coyotes” – profit from transporting the illegals, who each pay coyotes anywhere from $500 to $1,500, Watkins said.”It’s my understanding it’s very lucrative to the people transporting them,” Olmstead said.The majority of the illegals don’t stay in Colorado; instead they are bound for destinations across the country, often to do agricultural or factory work, Watkins said.”There are certain industries that want the workers,” he said.
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