He’s been called racist, a bigot and worse, but Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez isn’t ready to back down from his critics. In fact, after a failed attempt to gain a declaration of disaster for Canyon County in January 2005, he says he’s gaining more support as word of his fight against illegal immigration reaches across Idaho and beyond.
Vasquez, a candidate for Idaho’s first congressional district, isn’t alone in decrying the problem of illegal immigration. Governors in Arizona and New Mexico both recently proclaimed declarations of disaster in their states due to the overwhelming numbers of illegal immigrants accessing limited public services. In addition, several town meetings and public forums across California have attracted crowds of concerned citizens, and Vasquez has traveled from San Diego to Chicago addressing the issue and his efforts to curb the problem in Idaho.
Vasquez, who is Hispanic, says that he’s not against immigration. In fact, his own grandparents immigrated to the United States. The difference, he is quick to point out, is their legal status and dedication to their adopted country. “My father was a first generation American who fought in World War II and carried a dictionary to better learn to speak and write English.”
The problem with illegal immigration, he says, is that those who circumvent the proper channels can bring with them disease or crime — problems that have been noted and continue to occur in Canyon County. To illustrate the issue, he points to recent active cases of tuberculosis, a disease known to be easily communicable.
“These people are running loose in the community,” he warns. “Think about that the next time you are in the store and someone is hacking and coughing. My job is to protect my constituents.”
Vasquez estimates that illegal immigration has cost Canyon County at least $2 million over the last five years in education, medical care, social services and other costs. Because of this, he recently sent a bill to the Mexican Consulate asking for their help in stemming the illegal flow of Mexicans to the United States. Almost overnight a group calling itself Action Against Hate formed, rallying about 200 people opposed to his stand. “They threatened me with recall, but I haven’t heard from any of them since,” he says. “That indicates to me that the majority of Canyon County residents support my position.”
And what exactly is that position? “I would like to see the [federal] borders closed and the border patrol authorized and enabled to do the job,” he says. “I’d also like to see federal law enforced restricting services provided to illegal aliens, and the county’s indigent law adapted to exclude services to illegal aliens … If there are no services and no jobs, we won’t need to deport them, they will leave on their own.”
In fact, an attempt to pass a bill restricting services to illegal aliens died in committee. But Vasquez isn’t discouraged by failure and says he’ll try again – despite those who persist in calling him racist.
“To nay-sayers, I say it’s absurd,” he says of the charges. “It’s not racist to defend one’s country. It’s not discriminating to demand that people in this country enter legally, be healthy and not be criminals. Those who oppose me are essentially saying they support all these things.”
Vasquez contends there is growing support nationwide for his stance, led in part by Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo from Denver, Colo. Tancredo has led the charge to control illegal immigration on the federal level, addressing the full Congressional body during sessions telecast on C-Span.
“He is the grand champion of this movement on a federal level,” says Vasquez, noting that Tancredo has supported his own run for Congress. “I was battling the issue here [in Idaho], writing letters and watching him on C-Span. He was saying essentially the same things on a federal level. But one congressman cannot affect change.”
If he wins the first congressional seat in the upcoming election, Vasquez plans to join with Trancredo and others to push for reform. But win or not, he believes his efforts are paving the way for future change.
“I’m hoping that my efforts here will serve as a template for other counties in Idaho and in the United States. There’s no reason other county commissioners or county supervisors cannot do this. We merely need the political will to serve our constituents.”
Written by Kathleen Craven