Business, agriculture leaders press Obama, Congress for immigration reform

DENVER — Immigration reform took the spotlight in 25 states, including Colorado, Wednesday.

This is a National Day of Action, in which business, manufacturing and agriculture leaders come together demanding Congress and the president pass immigration reform.

Business leaders, including the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, say they’re going to keep pushing Congress until they act—because our economy depends on it.

“My life was in danger if I would have gone back,” said Silverthorne resident Jaime Leon-Rivas, 19.

He was just 10 when he crossed the U.S. border from El Salvador.

“I would see people get murdered and as a little kid you think it’s normal because you don’t know better,” Leon-Rivas said. “I don’t want to go back to that.”

He may not have a choice.

Leon-Rivas has been targeted for deportation and given one-year to fix his status.  A working permit is not enough to keep him in the country.

“We need to get something done,” said Jeff Wasden, President of the Colorado Business Roundtable, at a press conference in Centennial.

He and other business leaders are pushing for immigration reform, that addresses, in part, expanding the number of visas for high-end and lesser-skilled workers.

“Only seven-percent of visas issued in the state are work related. In other countries, it’s closer to 50 percent. It’s crucial to fix this problem,” said Bob Golden, CEO of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce.

It’s a problem farmers say leaves their crops unharvested in the field to rot, businesses with star global talent, and our economy at risk.

“It’s not just a security issue, but a workforce issue,” said Wasden.

The group also says it will push for establishing a national work verification system and providing an earned legal status for undocumented immigrants.

They are proposals the group realizes only federal authorities can enact.

But their group hopes political pressure will push Congress to act.

No one is more hopeful they’ll succeed than immigrant Leon-Rivas.

“Home to me is here now, in the United States,” he said.

George Brachler, DA of the 18th Judicial District, also wants to push Congress to come up with a system that allows immigrants to report crimes without fear of deportation.

“No economy can thrive in an environment where people don’t feel safe,” he said.