Essex column — Immigrant critics: Just what will please you? |

Essex column — Immigrant critics: Just what will please you?

Rosa Contreras
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

Rosa Contreras of Carbondale is a new small businesswoman living the American dream.

I’ve been privy to Rosa’s story because she works with my wife through English in Action, the Basalt-based nonprofit that pairs volunteers with immigrants who want to improve their English skills. Her determination and persistence are remarkable — a lot of people with more advantages would have given up in the face of the obstacles she’s faced.

Rosa immigrated to the United States from Guatemala in 2007. Her husband, Oscar, had come to the U.S. in 2003, and when Rosa and their three daughters joined him, she gave up her salon business. To be clear, because I know how some of you are, the family had legal authorization to be here.

Despite her 15 years of experience in her homeland — and this is a common story for immigrants in many professions — Colorado required that she complete an expensive course of study before she could be licensed.

Working through English in Action while taking classes, then taking a certification test, she became licensed.

This fall, she signed a lease for a salon on Main Street in Carbondale, becoming a businesswoman once again. I ran by her salon at about 7 p.m. one day after work, knowing that she was waiting to open until she got her state license for the business. There she was with a client, the new license on display and Rosa beaming after so many years of striving simply to do what she had done professionally in Guatemala.

She’s providing workspace for a contract stylist. She and Oscar have three polite and poised daughters, two in college and one a high school junior.

This is a great, upstanding family, rising in the best tradition of this country, working hard and making a better life for their children.

It’s well-known that the Post Independent is an advocate for immigrants.

That’s often interpreted by our critics to mean that we support illegal immigration, which isn’t the case. But we agree with Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who is among the many Americans who believe the country should find a way for many of the 11 million people here illegally to get right with authorities and stay and continue contributing to our communities and economy.

When we are face-to-face with other human beings or sharing a sidewalk, a park, a road, a school event, we have much in common. We’re trying to make a living in this pricey region, support our kids and enjoy life.

In Garfield County, immigrants make up more than half the children in our schools, account for a quarter of our workforce and about a third of our population.

Because there is sometimes a lack of understanding about our editorial positions on immigration, I’ll recap those here:

• It’s illegal to enter the United States without legal authorization. The borders should be secure and people should be turned away if they do not meet our legal criteria to be considered for refugee status. For those who say this is a nation of laws, well, considering refugee status is one of those laws. That process should be honored.

• Eleven million people are in the country illegally, including about 400,000 in Colorado and a few thousand in Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties. It’s impossible, and would be a humanitarian and economic disaster, to try to deport all of them.

• We should focus deportation efforts on those who are a danger.

• The country should find a way for those who are paying taxes and following the law (beyond their illegal entry) to stay and continue contributing, including creating a realistic path to citizenship.

• We should treat our neighbors and their children with decency.

Some folks seem to have trouble with that concept. I see their Facebook comments. I get their emails.

One quite civil email exchange following our story about Sandra Lopez going into sanctuary in a Carbondale parsonage led me to tell the reader Rosa’s story and how proud of her I was.

A few days later, that writer’s husband emailed, saying, “I notice there’s not ONE WORD about your wife’s student working (i.e., putting effort) towards obtaining citizenship.”

And there it is.

She’s spent thousands on cosmetology school while raising three children, worked throughout her 10 years in the United States to improve her English, secured commercial space, remodeled it and started a business that provides income for a second person.

But that’s not enough for some people.

In fact, citizenship is the whole family’s next project. But it’s not like going to the DMV to get your driver’s license.

I’m confident Rosa and her family will clear that hurdle, too.

Then what will her shortcoming be? What is it then that she will not have done to please the cynics who want to close our borders? What is it then that these critics will cite so they can think she is a less deserving or less American than them?

A small segment will never be satisfied, even as they say all they want is for immigrants to follow the law and become citizens. It is more than sad. It is a fearful nativism that is erosive of true American principles.

Randy Essex is editor and publisher of the Post Independent.

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