Immigration anxieties vented at legal forum
Well over 100 people from the Roaring Fork Valley’s immigrant community showed up for a legal forum Saturday afternoon.
Entravision, a Basalt-based media company focusing on the Latino community, hosted the event, which drew experts from local organizations assisting immigrants, immigration attorneys, religious leaders and law enforcement from a number of Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County departments. A representative from the Mexican consulate in Denver also attended.
Because of concerns that Donald Trump will increase immigration enforcement after attacking Mexican immigrants and promising mass deportations during his campaign, many people are concerned about what will happen next, said Lisa York, a Denver immigration attorney who fielded questions at the forum.
She asserted that the past election cycle was unprecedented for its rhetoric and hate speech, much of which targeted immigrants. “But in my heart of hearts, I believe that the majority of Americans believe in the American value of diversity.”
Legal experts fielded questions ranging from issues with immigrant driver licenses and obtaining work visas. Others were concerned about whether their personal information given to the government, such as information used to register for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, could be used against them for deportation.
Many people who had specific legal questions were urged to seek private legal advice about their specific situations.
Some were worried that Trump administration policies could mean that Colorado’s driver’s license program for undocumented immigrants would be terminated. But law enforcement said the administration would not be able to single-handedly dismantle that program without a change in law. Driver’s license rules are set by states, though the federal government could use budget threats to coerce states, as it has with the drinking age and speed limits in the past.
York said she expects a lot of changes to immigration law, “though frankly we don’t know what those will be.”
Regardless of those changes, and despite the hype and hate speech during the campaign that has generated much fear and anxiety, “there is a process for laws to change in America.”
Changes to the law must go through the constitutional process, which demands much discussion and debate before they can be made, said York. “Changes to the law in the U.S. are not made easily and they are not made over night.”
The government doesn’t decide what a community is and how people act toward one another, she said. Only the community itself decides that.
A representative from Catholic Charities said her organization was there to help immigrants, documented or undocumented, with whatever types of problems they’re facing, “under whatever president” is in office.
Catholic Charities has an immigration attorney who stops in Glenwood Springs once per month, she noted. And though setting an appointment with the attorney is $50, immigrants can also speak with the attorney by phone at no cost. Her organization can also help with wage theft and problems with leases for their residences, she said. She also implored the immigrant community to be wary of scammers, especially those saying they can keep an immigrant from getting deported.
Basalt Police Chief Greg Knott highlighted the importance of immigrants seeking legal services from licensed attorneys, as many in the community have been taken advantage of by people posing as lawyers.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo was on hand to stand with other Roaring Fork Valley law enforcement and affirm that his department will not arrest or hold someone based on their immigration status.
In a letter, the sheriff said he wants immigrants to feel safe in the community and he pledged not to jail people for living and working in the valley.
Robin Vega, pastor of Christ the Rock Church in New Castle, called on the community to obey and respect the law, while at the same time to “go forward to pursue justice before God.”