Gathering aims to calm immigrant concerns
If any Roaring Fork Valley immigrant students or their families feel unsafe or intimidated in the heated aftermath of the presidential election, Carlos Smith says he and his Yampah Mountain High schoolmates are there for support.
“We at Yampah are doing everything we can to make sure all students feel safe, and if you have kids in your school who say they don’t feel safe or have any concerns, we will come to your school and help,” Smith said during a gathering of more than 170 people Sunday in Glenwood Springs.
“We have our own ‘don’t-keep-us-out programs,’ and we want to share that,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to us.”
The crowd at the Glenwood Springs Library, about a third of which was Latino, took time out of their Sunday afternoon to hear concerns from the immigrant community and try to calm nerves about possible drastic changes in immigration policy under a Donald Trump presidency.
A key concern, though, from school hallways to the larger community, is making sure immigrant families are not the victims of hateful acts or intimidation.
Glenwood immigration attorney Jennifer Smith said many questions will remain unanswered until Trump and his administration actually take office in January, and whether Trump follows through on his rather nonspecific campaign pledges to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
Smith, who co-organized the meeting, said it’s possible little could change from President Obama’s ongoing policy of targeting immigrants for deportation who have committed crimes, including misdemeanor drunken-driving convictions.
“The fears people are experiencing are not new, but they are enhanced,” she said, noting there were more deportations under Obama than any previous president.
Likewise, she said the vast majority of those apprehended on the U.S.-Mexican border in recent years have been refugees seeking political asylum, she said.
“The current administration continues to violate the rights of refugees and deny fair court proceedings,” she said.
Smith and others who spoke at the meeting said it is possible that Trump will follow through on his call to end Obama’s Deferred Action to Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order, which allows qualified undocumented children who came to the U.S. with their parents at a young age a two-year renewable work permit once they leave high school.
However, there has been broad bipartisan support for that policy, Smith noted.
Ted Hess, another local immigration lawyer who helped organize the Sunday meeting, agreed.
“Trump has said he would end that, but you can write to your legislators, and there’s a remote possibility you might save DACA,” he said.
Whether deportations extend beyond the current Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy remains to be seen.
House Speaker Paul Ryan did say in an interview with CNN Sunday that Trump is not planning to carry out mass deportations beyond those now targeted, and that the primary emphasis is on securing the border in an effort to keep criminal activity out.
Smith emphasized that the purpose of the Sunday meeting was to try to answer any questions and to offer support for any members of the Latino community who feel threatened.
Safety pins, which have become a symbol for those who wear them that they are a “safe” person and will stand up against any intimidation, were also handed out at the meeting.
Some of the Latinos represented at the meeting told stories of children worrying that their parents or other family members would be deported and families broken up if the children are legal citizens and can’t go to their parents’ home country.
Two Republican Garfield County commissioners, Tom Jankovsky and John Martin, and newly elected 9th District Attorney Jeff Cheney also attended the meeting.
“Your community is important to us,” Jankovsky said, noting that 30 percent of the county population is Hispanic and that, yes, he is part of the same political party as Trump.
He pledged to do what he can to make sure those who are in the U.S. working and contributing, and not doing anything against the law, are allowed to stay.
“I’m a third-generation immigrant myself, and I believe in the American dream of hard work and being able to advance yourself … I have a lot in common with the Hispanic community around those principles.”
Though the county cannot affect immigration policy, Jankovsky said he would work with Colorado’s congressional delegation to bring about immigration reforms, including a worker program.
“We want to see those people who are here working and contributing stay here, and we will try our darnedest to make that happen,” Jankovsky said.
Pressed as to whether the county would adopt a “zero tolerance” policy around racial hatred and intimidation, Jankovsky said he doesn’t condone that behavior.
“It does bother me if people are becoming more racist,” Jankovsky said outside the meeting. “I think what you heard over and over here today is that the system is broken. I think that will be addressed by this president [Trump] and by Congress.”
School officials attending the meeting also pledged that schools will continue to be a safe haven for immigrant students and that, by policy, school resource officers in Roaring Fork Schools are not allowed to do work for ICE.
The same is true for Colorado Mountain College, said college President Carrie Hauser.
“Our college always has had open doors, and we always will,” she said. “And we will not tolerate any acts of violence or intimidation.”
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