Many of the people Ivan Carrillo sells auto insurance to are in Idaho
illegally. They work hard, pay taxes, buy insurance and live in fear of being
forced out, he says.
Carrillo relates to that anxiety: A native of Mexico, he came to Idaho with his family at age 6 but didn't gain legal status until he was 14. He didn't truly feel at ease until he became a U.S. citizen just before he turned 18.
"When I became a citizen I felt forgiven, almost. It was a huge change, a huge weight off my shoulders," said the 26-year-old, who works at Nampa's El Centro, a business that sells insurance and tax-preparation services to a mostly immigrant population, both legal and not.
"I would like to see a reform that not only permits people to lawfully be here, but is not just temporary," Carrillo said. "Then these people can aspire to much more. Then they can invest in our economy much more. They would be willing to buy houses. They would be willing to contribute more to this country."
Idaho businesses and trade organizations are seeking immigration reform as a way to keep needed workers, fill jobs and offer security to hard-working families who lack legal status.
Workers without legal residency pack an economic punch at markets, malls and purveyors of services and goods large and small. But they generally can't buy houses, invest their money or make other transactions that require proof of legal residency.
"There's a lot of people standing there and wanting to buy and do a lot of things, but they can't because they don't have the right documentation," said Boise financial adviser Calvin Gates, who advocates granting a path to citizenship for workers who now live in the legal shadows. "Home purchases, investing in the markets -- those are things that grow the economy.
"Immigrants are more than twice as likely as U.S.-born citizens to start a small business," Gates said, echoing the ratio cited by Karen Mills, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. "That means immigrants are making jobs, not taking them.
"In our local economies, one business's employee is another business's customer, so immigrant business owners who are creating jobs are also creating more customers for other local businesses. We need more of that."
HUGE SHARE OF AG WORKERS
Just how many of those immigrants are here unlawfully is an elusive number, as those who entered the United States illegally generally must hide their status to stay on the job and in the state. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that in 2010, about 20,000 Idaho workers -- 2.8 percent of the total workforce -- were not legal residents. The Pew study estimated Idaho's total number of immigrants without legal status at 35,000 that year, 2.2 percent of the state's 1.5 million population.
In Idaho's front-line agriculture jobs such as dairy and field workers, industry estimates hover around 70 percent here illegally, said Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen's Association.
That estimate is drawn from immigration enforcement audits, Naerebout said. Idaho U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador has estimated that 90 percent of all Idaho dairy workers are here illegally.
Naerebout says that's too high, but he acknowledges that dairies and other major slices of Idaho's economy depend on a workforce that lacks legal status.
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