PI editorial: Feds can help with our Roaring Fork Valley migrant influx by easing the path to work

Post Independent Editorial Board

By now you’ve probably heard or read about the recent influx of migrants to the Roaring Fork Valley. Over the past few months, over 100 people, mostly from Venezuela and Colombia, have come to Carbondale in search of work. With housing in slim supply, many started staying near the bridge along Colorado Highway 133 at the entrance to the town. When temperatures dropped and early winter settled in, it became imperative to find them shelter from the elements. 

Voces Unidas led the charge in responding to the crisis and has helped many organizations and governmental agencies seek temporary solutions to the migrants’ plight.

The town of Carbondale last week set up a temporary shelter in the Third Street Center, but room is limited and there have been reports of some being turned away for lack of space. 

Help from the state and federal level has seemingly yet to appear — and it’s unlikely we’ll see anything from them in the near-term. There is funding available, but has to be requested and will likely take time to make it to the responding agencies. And long-term, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a state or federal response plan for when a community sees an unanticipated influx of migrants. That often results in a flat-footed response that lead migrants to being bounced around from community to community — a response we think is both callous and inhumane.

So we’re happy that in the Roaring Fork Valley progress has been made in finding temporary solutions, but more still needs to be done. Then comes the hardest part: finding long-term solutions so that migrants can legally stay and find work to help themselves settle and contribute to their communities and the local economy.

It’s believed that roughly 2/3 of the recent migrants from Venezuela are eligible for Temporary Protected Status, which would allow them to legally work — and hopefully make it more difficult for unscrupulous businesses to take advantage of them if they were undocumented.

But the process can be painfully long, sometimes taking up to a year to get a temporary work permit. That’s why Denver Mayor Mike Johnston and three other Ddemocratic mayors of major U.S. cities are asking the federal government to speed up the work permitting process for migrants already in communities.

Given how low unemployment remains in Garfield County, we firmly believe our recent arrivals could find work, if they are permitted to do so, and would encourage Carbondale’s town trustees to partner up with Johnston and others seeking a change in the permitting process from the feds.

Finding migrants legal work is not the only need, however. It’s going to require more help: clothing, meals, medical care — even just basic community orientation efforts such as acquainting them with RFTA schedules, church services, and more. For many of us, the best thing we can do is to offer help but also ask what that help should look like — and look to Voces Unidas to help guide those efforts so they have as much positive impact as possible.

The Post Independent editorial board members are Publisher/Editor Peter Baumann and community representatives John Stroud, Mark Fishbein and Amy Connerton.

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