Immigration debate on mind of many Colorado voters and businesses

(CBS News) DENVER, Colo. - Immigration policy is a big issue in Colorado. The state's Hispanic population has grown by 45 percent over the past decade. Both presidential campaigns have vigorously courted Hispanic voters in the state.

For one local businessman, a consistent and permanent immigration policy is what he is looking for from the candidates.

Steve Steele heads a Denver landscaping company which employs 120 full-time U.S. workers. But Steele's business relies heavily on part-time, seasonal Mexican laborers. Without them, his company could be in real trouble.

"Worst case, we'd go out of business," says Steele. "Best case, we'd probably shrink by half to two-thirds."

A federal guest worker program allows Steele to bring approximately 85 seasonal workers into Colorado. They are paid $9 an hour. He says most Colorado job seekers will not apply for these positions.

Steele wants a president who will allow guest worker programs, but he also wants a leader who will crack down on businesses that hire undocumented workers.

"That's a difficult question. I saw a poll that said half of Americans are not excited about either one of the candidates," says Steele. "I'll put myself in that category."

It will be up to the two presidential candidates to convince undecided voters, like Steele, that they have immigration policies that will make a difference.

President Obama has focused on deporting immigrants with criminal records, while proposing that non-criminal immigrants have a pathway to citizenship. And in June, the President ordered a halt to deportations of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. They are now eligible for a two-year visa which allows them to stay and work.

"A young person who comes to America, is brought here, is raised here, is friends with our kids, is going to school with our kids, is American in every single way except for a piece of paper," says President Obama.

This week Mitt Romney said, if elected, he would not reverse the visas granted under the President's new scheme. However, Governor Romney would not allow those visas to be renewed beyond their original two years. Romney supports letting those who arrived as children becoming legal residents or citizens by serving in the military. He also opposes amnesty programs for illegal immigrants.

"I will prioritize efforts that strengthen legal immigration and make it more transparent and easier," said Gov. Romney. "And I'm going to address the problem of illegal immigration in a civil and resolute manner."

As for Steele, he says that labor-intensive businesses such as his need certainty from an immigration policy. During the first debate, Steele will be waiting to hear if the candidates provide solid answers and long term solutions to his problems.

The latest CBS News poll shows four percent of voters in Colorado have yet to make up their minds.

  • Anna Werner

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