MONTROSE – Laura Figueroa understands living with the fear of deportation.
She is now a proud American citizen, and for her the uncertainty is over. But the experience of growing up an illegal immigrant in America, constantly looking over her shoulder and living life in the shadows, remains a source of hurt.
“I grew up with the pain. I lived with that pain every single day,” Figueroa said Saturday afternoon at the Coffee Trader in Montrose, where she attended a town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton.
“We need to fix our country,” she added. Lawmakers must focus on “the people, the 11 million” now applying for citizenship.
Tipton, a Republican, has been in office since 2010, when he unseated Democrat John Salazar. The Third Congressional District he represents covers the entire Western Slope and stretches east to incorporate the city of Pueblo. It is a swing district, won by Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election by 51.8 percent.
Perhaps not surprisingly in the wake of a controversial government shutdown, and given Tipton’s longstanding opposition to immigration reform, his outdoors town hall at the Coffee Trader was a hot spot on a chilly late-October morning, as the constituents who attended erupted in heated partisan debate, mudslinging and an airing of suspicions.
Supporters and opponents yelled at the Cortez Republican and at each other for about half hour.
“Why can’t you even get a bill to the floor and do your job,” one woman shouted about the political stalemate. “That’s the game you’re playing with people’s lives.”
When Tipton tried to address her she continued.
“Listen to me for once, you’ve had your time now it’s time to listen to me,” she said.
Another person shouted at Tipton that he did not want the government to be shut down.
“Don’t hold America hostage,” another cried.
Adding to the challenges Tipton faces, a new political advocacy organization, the Latino Victory Project, has pledged to oust House Republicans with sizable Latino constituencies who don’t support comprehensive immigration reform.
Figueroa, attending with her brother David and friends Jose and Maria Pacheco, Maria Gonzalez and 5-year-old Evelen Baltazar, had hoped to hear Tipton voice support for comprehensive immigration reform, and the congressman did allow that immigration reform is accomplishable.
A recent poll indicated that 77 percent of voters in Tipton’s district favor immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for hardworking illegal immigrants, strengthening border security, and blocking employers from hiring undocumented workers.
“This is complex issue because we have to be fair and considerate to the 4.4 million people who are standing in line legally,” Tipton told The Watch after the meeting.
The Third District poll also indicated a job approval rating of 50 percent for Tipton, with 53 percent of Hispanic respondents supporting his performance in the House of Representatives.
“A guest worker program and border security … these need to be our starting places,” Tipton said.
He went on to emphasize that comprehensive bills on both immigration and health care “create real challenges on the House side” of the U.S. Congress.
TIPTON IN MOUNTAIN VILLAGE FRIDAY
Tipton said he and his staff have held “numerous” town hall meetings – 18 so far, with a meeting scheduled for Friday, Nov. 1, at 2 p.m. in Mountain Village Town Council chambers, above Mountain Market – and worked closely with House leadership to draft immigration legislation similar to a bill passed earlier this year by the Senate.
Last week, President Barack Obama said he wants Congress to finalize an immigration bill before the end of the year. Tipton said that with bipartisan work, the President’s deadline for passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation is attainable.
“It may not be in the framework exactly of what the President would like to see,” Tipton told The Watch, “but we need to have Congress actually roll up its sleeves and get to work so we are not dealing with the same issue twenty years down the road.”
The Senate passed the roughly 1,200-page bill on June 27. It lays the groundwork for overhauling the country’s immigration laws for the first time since 1986, creating a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented residents, streamlining a guest-worker visa program and strengthening security along the U.S.-Mexican border.
But Tuxedo Corn Company founder John Harold, whose Olathe corn is picked by migrant workers at harvest-time, criticized the proposed legislation as a “compromise,” asserting there is no longer “any excuse” for citing border security as a rationale for inactivity.
OBAMACARE ‘BROKEN FROM THE VERY START’
The recent federal shutdown was a partisan response to the Affordable Health Care Act that sent Republican ratings plummeting, cost the government billions of dollars and damaged U.S. credibility nationally, charged many in the audience. Intense shouting and finger-pointing prevailed Saturday morning, until a Tipton staff-member intervened.
But Tipton did not back down from his stance that the new health care law was “broken from the very start,” and that a “market-based” health care reform plan would better serve his constituents.
“People in rural Colorado are going to pay double” for Obamacare over people in metro areas, Tipton said.
Montrose businessman Glen Davis took that argument a step further, saying that for small business owners, it is “cheaper to pay the hospital” bills for employees “than the insurance” bills from Obamacare.
Davis went on to brand the President a “crook and a liar.”
Tipton’s Mountain Village town hall on Friday will mark his first visit to eastern San Miguel County since he was first elected to Congress.