It’s tough to pigeonhole Robert Copley.
Copley, 66, is a co-founder of the Colorado branch of the controversial border patrol group, The Minuteman Project, which some peg as extremist, racist, and right-wing to the core.
But the Deer Trail resident’s views on the Iraq War make clear the popular perception of the group isn’t always true.
“The U.S. has to keep its nose out of other governments’ business,” he said. “All the people being killed (in Iraq) now, their blood should be on Congress’ hands.”
And when it comes to immigration, it’s about human rights and compassion, not a hatred of illegal immigrants.
He’s been doing border patrol work with the group and described a “trail of tears” – a path littered with the panties and brassieres of immigrants who had been raped by coyotes, those who immigrants pay to smuggle them across the border.
And if the coyotes don’t get them, sometimes predatory employers in America take advantage of them by not paying them for work they’ve done, Copley said, and their illegal status means they have no recourse.
“We try to attack employers,” he said. “Illegal or legal, theft is theft. That’s theft.”
Copley was one perspective in a panel discussion held in Room A202 of the Clark building Wednesday night that addressed issues relating to immigration.
Norberto Valdez, a CSU anthropology professor, said people should consider the causes of immigration.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, which some say benefits richer nations while exploiting poorer ones, along with other exploitative policies are at the root of illegal immigration, he said.
“What causes someone to leave their families and the nation they love to come to another nation?” he said. “We need to look at all of these factors.”
No definitive studies have been done on the fiscal impact of illegal immigration on Colorado. Numbers vary depending on what study is looked at. The conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform states illegal immigrants cost the state $711 million annually.
The liberal-leaning Bell Policy Center, however, states that illegal immigrants use nearly $225 million in state and local government services, while paying in taxes between $159 million and $194 million.
Carol Hildebrand, a Denver-based immigration lawyer, said she supports a Senate bill that would offer a “path to legalization” – some call it “amnesty” – along with a year-round guest-worker program.
“There’s a pretty good sized shortage of lesser-skilled workers,” she said. “It’s an administrative problem we can fix.”
Steve Shulman, chair of the economics department at CSU, questioned the theory that there’s a shortage of labor.
If there was a labor shortage, employers would be competing with each other and that would drive up wages, he said, but wages are declining.
“The evidence that we are experiencing a labor shortage and therefore need this massive influx of human beings is non-existent,” he said.
Shulman recommends “significant employer sanctions” to crack down on illegal immigration.
The panel was organized by Americans for Informed Democracy, a student group at CSU.
“We try to take an issue and hit it from all different angles,” said Jon Graning, a group member and junior political science major.
Meanwhile, Copley, the Colorado Minuteman Project co-founder, emphasized his efforts were about compassion.
In fact, he says, he was instrumental in the destruction of Ranch Rescue, which was an anti-immigration group that had a “kill them all” mentality. That’s a group Copley says he didn’t want to be associated with.
“We’re dealing with people and you don’t treat people that way,” he said. “We’re not anti-Latino. We’re for regulated immigration.”
Still, many Americans will always pin Copley with the extremist label.
That doesn’t make it right, though, he says.
“I can’t equate every Latino with a supporter of Che Guevara,” he said, referring to the violent Latin American revolutionary. “But he’s a hero to some.”
News managing editor Vimal Patel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.