Border Patrol presence at Glenwood Springs Career Expo raises concerns, prompts apologies
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the original version with some information included in a related article in the Post Independent’s sister publication, The Aspen Times.
Concerns expressed over the presence of a U.S. Border Patrol agent who presented at Tuesday’s multi-school Youthentity Career Expo at Glenwood Springs High School prompted responses from both the organizer of the event and Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Jesús Rodríguez.
“We are aware of the trauma and damage that interactions with agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol can have on some of our students and community, and for that, I sincerely apologize on behalf of the Roaring Fork School District,” Rodríguez wrote in a letter to district families on Wednesday.
The Border Patrol recruiter was one of the more than 90 exhibitors at the Career Expo that included several other local, state and federal law enforcement, public safety, corrections and security agencies.
The event, which was organized for the first time this year by Carbondale-based Youthentity after several years under the auspices of GlenX, invited high school students from Glenwood Springs to Aspen to learn about a variety of possible career paths.
But the presence of the Border Patrol drew criticism from both state Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, D-Glenwood Springs, and the Latino advocacy group Voces Unidas.
“At a time our state is advancing legislation to support our immigrant community, inviting this agency into the safe space of a school sends the opposite message,” Velasco said in a Wednesday news release.
She said she supports the presence of local law-enforcement agencies at local career expos, adding that “public safety is strengthened when the community has a positive relationship with law enforcement,” especially local police agencies.
“However, having classmates put on a U.S. Border Patrol vest in the school setting creates a threatening and divisive environment that pits nonimmigrant students against immigrant students,” she said.
Voces Unidas President and CEO Alex Sánchez expressed similar concerns, calling the decision to include the Border Patrol at the expo “insensitive, at best.”
“It is simply unacceptable for (organizers) to embrace a visit from U.S. Border Patrol to campus,” he wrote in a statement posted to the group’s website. “It represents a grave violation of the community’s trust and it is traumatic to many students and their families.”
Youthentity Executive Director Kirsten Petre McDaniel apologized, as well, in a statement provided to the Post Independent on Thursday.
“I sincerely apologize to any student or community member who was inadvertently hurt by their presence,” she said. “The purpose of the event is to connect students with a variety of professionals to learn more about their career paths. This includes students who may want to serve their local community, state or country in a law enforcement or military capacity.
“Discussions have already taken place with Superintendent Dr. Rodríguez, and we pledge to work more closely together regarding future events to help ensure all students feel safe.”
In an emailed statement provided to the Post Independent’s sister publication, The Aspen Times, Jason Givens of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol explained that their purpose in attending the expo was educational.
“CBP attends numerous career fairs at colleges, universities, high schools and other locations throughout the nation. CBP has a number of excellent career opportunities available that feature competitive salaries and an exceptional benefits package,” Givens wrote. “CBP representatives attend career fairs to benefit students who might be seeking a career in law enforcement or civil service within the federal government. Representatives from CBP who attend career fairs are only there to discuss employment opportunities and not to conduct law-enforcement activities.”
RFSD Public Information Officer Kelsy Been also told the Times that the district did not see the list of career expo participants in advance of the event this year, as it has in the past.
“So obviously, we need to make sure in future years that we are working more closely with Youthentity, so that we’re seeing who’s going to be there before the day of,” Been said.
“I know that Dr. Rodriguez feels that if even one student felt unsafe, that we messed up,” she said. “And although we weren’t at the table reviewing who was going to be at the career expo, we should have been. And we will be next time.”
In addition, Been shared a statement from district principals regarding the concerns.
Rodríguez also referred to the school district’s 2016 resolution which committed to ensuring a safe haven for immigrant students in district schools.
“The Career Expo this week resulted in our failure to meet at least the following commitment from the resolution:
- ‘Our schools will remain safe and supportive spaces for students and community members, free from intimidation, hostility or violence, including threat of deportation.’
“Though there were not any direct threats that we know of, nor any student information that was shared, we recognize that the presence of Border Patrol alone can be intimidating for some students,” he wrote.
Both Velasco and Sánchez referenced a 2012 Roaring Fork School District agreement with local law-enforcement agencies to exercise “extraordinary discretion” before assigning a school resource officer to additional police work involving immigration enforcement that could implicate the immigration status of a student’s family. At the time, a Carbondale police officer assigned to be a local school resource officer was also working with an interagency task force assisting federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations in the area.
Tuesday’s Career Expo brought more than 1,200 students to GSHS to visit the various information tables and listen to keynote speaker Kayleen McCabe, a TV host and contractor with the DIY Network’s Rescue Renovation.
The event, which operated for seven years under GlenX, “helps to expose high school students to a variety of career choices and is also a chance for valley businesses and organizations to share what they have to offer locally,” said Greg Beachey, director of Youthentity’s Career Academy.
Post Independent interim Managing Editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at email@example.com or at 970-384-9160. Aspen Times reporter Josie Taris contributed to this report.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.