The country’s debate over immigration is escalating, and now it’s arrived in Wyoming. A private company wants to build an immigration detention center on the outskirts of Evanston on Wyoming’s western border. This was met with great celebration by many local folks like Uinta County Commissioner Craig Welling. To him, it means jobs.
“When it’s good, it’s been really good and when it’s been bust it’s been really not very good and we’re challenged right now with one of those downside times.”
And Welling said those downside times have affected his family.
“My wife and I had eight children. Well, if we looked at these numbers right now, four of our children have remained in the state of Wyoming and four have not.”
He said only two of his children live in Evanston and only one has a full-time job there.
“We’re losing our young people [that we need for] the workforce of Wyoming. And if we don’t have a valid workforce, our economic growth is not going to happen and that means that our population and opportunities are going to start constricting.”
Welling said that’s why city and county officials—including himself—all voted unanimously for the ICE detention center.
That’s made some Wyomingites—like longtime Evanston resident and former Democratic state legislator Saundra Meyer—pretty mad. She said most immigrants aren’t criminals and don’t deserve to go to jail.
“They are treated like prisoners, whether we like it or not,” she said. “They’re prisoners because they cannot leave.”
But both Meyer and Welling do agree that these days it’s hard to have a reasonable conversation about immigration. So I traveled to Evanston to sit down with the two of them for my series, “I Respectfully Disagree.” They’ve both spent decades in public service hashing out big problems in their communities, making them great models for how to talk about hard things civilly.
Meyer starts by saying she understands why Welling wants to see all his children and grandchildren have good paying jobs in Evanston.