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Immigrants Buoy Flood Recovery

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Immigrants Buoy Flood Recovery

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Contributed by Kim Tremblay, Associate Attorney

Immigrants contribute to Colorado in many ways such as by starting businesses, voting and holding office upon naturalizing, and stimulating local economies with their spending. In addition, immigrants supply the skills and labor that are necessary to recover from natural disasters, as evidenced by events related to the recent catastrophic floods in Colorado.

The U.S. government relies on foreign expertise and contractors to augment its capacity to respond to emergencies.  For example, one of our clients, HeliQwest International, a Canadian company with an office in Colorado, is participating in search and rescue operations in areas where people have become isolated due to flooding and road damage.  The Forestry Department is using one of HeliQwest’s helicopters and its personnel is heavily engaged in these flight missions.  HeliQwest has also provided helicopters for firefighting operations during the many forest fires that have ravaged our state in the last few years.  Many of their employees are Canadians who have highly specialized skills related to aircraft operation and maintenance.  There is a shortage of U.S. workers in this area.  Thus, these immigrants’ knowledge is indispensable to these types of operations.  Without access to services such as HeliQwest’s helicopter charters and supporting personnel, the United States government would not have all the resources it needs to fight wildfires and to ensure that people are out of harm’s way when disasters occur.

Moreover, immigrants also supply the labor that is crucial to recovery from natural as well as human made disasters.  Indeed, many immigrants, included the undocumented, work in the construction business.  Immigrant workers were a major source of labor during the reconstruction of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina devastated the area in 2005.  There are claims that thousands of undocumented workers helped clean up ground zero after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.  It is likely that many immigrant workers in our state will participate in reconstructing and repairing the roads, homes, and businesses severely damaged by flood waters and mudslides. Without them, labor would be scarce and this scarcity would certainly prolong the recovery period.

This kind of catastrophic event reminds us that not only do many migrants come to the United States to increase their quality of life, but that the quality of life in the United States depends on foreign workers as well.

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