Post-election deportation fears spur support | PostIndependent.com

Post-election deportation fears spur support

Community gathering on immigration

With: Jennifer Smith, Smith Immigration; Ted Hess, Ted Hess & Associates; Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition

Who: Anyone with concerns regarding potential changes to immigration law.

When: 1:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 13

Where: Glenwood Springs Public Library Community Room, 815 Cooper Ave.

Purpose: An opportunity for community members to come together for support and to allay fears. Jennifer Smith will answer questions regarding current immigration law. Community-based organizations are invited to attend. Those seeking legal counsel for their individual situation would need to schedule a consultation with an immigration attorney.

Reunión de la Comunidad al Respecto de Immigration

Con: Jennifer Smith, Smith Immigration; Ted Hess, Ted Hess & Associates; Coalición de Derechos para los Inmigrantes de Colorado

Para: Personas con preguntas sobre cambios posible con las leyes de inmigración.

Cuándo: Domingo, 13ª de noviembre, 2016 a la 1:30 pm

Dónde: En la Biblioteca Pública de Glenwood Springs, Sala de la Comunidad, 815 Cooper Ave.

Propósito: Será una oportunidad para que miembros de la comunidad pueda unirse y obtener apoyo, aliviar los temores. Jennifer Smith va responder a las preguntas en cuanto a leyes de inmigración actuales. Organizaciones basadas en la comunidad están invitados a asistir. Para los que buscan consejo legal para su situación individual tendría que programar una consulta con un abogado de inmigración.

Fears among immigrants living in the Roaring Fork Valley about possible mass deportations under President-elect Donald Trump is prompting community organizations to band together in support of those who could be vulnerable.

Trump’s call for deporting millions of people in the country improperly and building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to keep immigrants out was a central message on the campaign trail.

Following Trump’s election Tuesday, it’s one that has raised concerns for the many Latinos who live and work in the area.

“We did hear about kids coming to school in tears this week and expressing a real fear that their parents and other relatives might be deported,” said Rob Stein, superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

Janeth Niebla is the new community organizer for the school district through a partnership with the Manaus Fund, for which Niebla helped organize the Valley Settlement Project to bring resources to the Latino community.

“There is a lot of sadness and a lot of hopelessness right now,” said Niebla, a 2004 graduate of Glenwood Springs High School. “I know how real this is, because I’m part of that immigrant community. I understand the fear, and I’m anxious about what it will mean for many of our families.

“But people need to know there are a lot of people in the community who are their allies, regardless of what happens,” she said. “And we want to be there to support them and let them know they are not alone.”

Stein said it’s important for school leaders to stay on top of not only the threat of breaking up immigrant families, but the potential for some of the divisive rhetoric to spill into school hallways, classrooms and the larger community.

Saying it should be treated “as a crisis,” Stein called an impromptu meeting Friday, inviting those who deal directly with immigrant families and organizations that might offer support and assistance to discuss the issue and come up with a coordinated response.

“We want to move slowly and carefully and continue to listen to what people are saying they need, and at the same time communicate our support and reassurance that our schools and communities are a safe place for all our residents,” Stein said.

Just how far a Trump administration will go to enforce existing immigration laws, impose new ones and crack down on deportation beyond his stated goal of targeting immigrants who commit crimes remains to be seen.

With that in mind, many of those who are taking action in the election aftermath say it’s also important to separate myth from reality about what could happen and what rights cannot be infringed upon.

That will certainly be a focus of a special community gathering in Glenwood Springs on Sunday inviting immigrants and other residents to express their concerns and ask questions.

“The biggest fear is always the fear of the unknown,” said Jennifer Smith, an immigration attorney and co-organizer of the Sunday event.

“A lot of what we want to address is the lack of trust this can create, and does my neighbor agree with all this and what kind of relationship am I going to have in my community,” Smith said.

“We want this to be a safe place for people to openly express their fears and to come and ask questions, even if we might not have all the answers,” she said.

From a law enforcement standpoint, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said it’s important to point out that local police agencies are not authorized to act as immigration officers.

“There is a lot of hype and fear mongering going on, and we have to be careful with that,” Vallario said.

“There may be changes to immigration policy, or maybe some laws that haven’t been enforced will be,” he said. “But if someone is a victim of a crime, we are there to help you and it doesn’t matter what your immigration status is.”

Vallario, a Republican who has been criticized in the past for his willingness to offer support to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations locally, said his office will ultimately enforce whatever laws are in place.

“We’re not going to be out there rounding people up, that’s not our job,” he said. “I’ve seen the political pendulum swing right, then left, and now it’s swinging more to the right again because people are not happy with the liberal policies that were in place.”

Among the organizations represented at the school district-organized meeting on Friday were English in Action, the Roaring Fork Pre-Collegiate Program, the Valley Settlement Project, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and several clergy members.

Rev. Shawna Foster of the Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Carbondale said she wanted to share that churches, like schools, can create a sense of safety around the immigration issue.

“Faith-based people can offer sanctuary to those who are under the threat of deportation,” she said. “There are so many examples in the Bible of harboring the immigrant or the refugee, and people who have been persecuted like Jesus himself …

“I would much rather have our politics offer a legal path to citizenship than to threaten people with deportation, because there are so many people who have lived here for decades and deserve to stay in our community,” she said.

Sophia Clark is the mountain region organizer for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. She said CIRC was just as active during the Bush and Obama administrations, and said immigrant rights is always an issue regardless of who is in the White House.

“It’s not new, it just seems like more people who aren’t directly affected are like, ‘Oh, it’s this bad, let’s do something.’

“We’ve been building up a deportation resistance infrastructure for years, and already have safe sanctuary established in Denver and have teams of people trained to fight deportation,” she said. “We’re just going to build upon that now.”

Ben Bohmfalk, a technology instruction facilitator for Roaring Fork schools and a member of the Carbondale town board, also attended the Friday meeting.

For teachers and others in the schools, he said it’s important to have an open conversation about immigrant issues and not suppress the discussion.

“I heard leading up to the election that a lot of teachers felt they just didn’t have the tools necessary to discuss the language they hear in class or in the hallway that is insensitive and hurtful to people,” Bohmfalk said. “Some people have responded by squashing the discussion, and that’s not a sustainable approach.

“As an educator I’m interested in helping provide teachers with some tools to facilitate discussions and stop any language or actions that are inappropriate,” he said.

As a town government leader, he said he’s also thinking of ways to allay fears and facilitate the broader conversation.

“We might be able to play a role by just clarifying for people that our police aren’t immigration enforcement officers, in case they are worried about that,” Bohmfalk added. “We want people to feel safe going to the police if they have a problem and to cooperate when incidents occur.”


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