Trump actions increase anxiety among immigrants in Roaring Fork Valley
The Aspen Times
THE JOBS IMMIGRANTS DO
Read our Labor Day report on immigrants’ economic impact and stories of the work newcomers do in the Roaring Fork Valley. Both stories are part of an occasional series, Immigrant Impact, by the Post Independent and Aspen Times.
For Glenwood Springs attorney Ted Hess, whose firm specializes in immigration law, the election of Donald Trump has created a boom fueled by anxiety. His immigration-related business is up 50 to 100 percent since Trump’s election.
People who had been complacent about securing their legal status because they had been viewed as a low priority for deportation have been scrambling, Hess said. For example, undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens are applying to get into the legalization process.
A recent raid in the Roaring Fork Valley by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement only added to that anxiety among undocumented residents, according to advocacy groups and immigration attorneys.
ICE said 14 people allegedly living in the country illegally were arrested in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and along the Interstate 70 corridor Aug. 13-16. Of those arrested, 12 had been previously convicted for crimes, ICE said in a statement.
The action was the first visible raid by ICE in the Roaring Fork Valley since Trump was elected, said Hess, and it’s had a chilling effect even among illegal residents with a clean criminal record.
Samuel Bernal-Urbina, vice president of Entravision Communications, which runs the local Spanish-language radio station Radio Tricolor Aspen, said there is a lot of confusion over ICE’s focus even though the radio station is covering immigration issues “more than ever.”
“A lot of people in the immigration community know that ICE is arresting people, but there’s not a clear idea of who, why, when and how,” he said.
Although ICE under the current administration has said it will target individuals with criminal records rather than make broad dragnets, Trump’s comments about building a wall between the United States and Mexico, reducing legal immigration and altering a program that gives temporary resident status to young immigrants have been widely unsettling, according to Hess.
“They live in the shadows,” Hess said, “and hope like hell there’s reform.”
Jennifer Smith, an immigration attorney in Glenwood, said so much is uncertain about how the government will pursue people living in the country without legal permission that it’s fraying the fabric of communities. She is aware of people who have had second thoughts about attending their children’s back-to-school meetings. They avoid as much contact outside their homes as possible.
Bernal said some of his firm’s advertising clients have reported a lower level of business this year.
“Some of the reasons for that, they think it’s related to fear or to people saving money in case they are deported,” he said.
Smith said the fear factor is apparent. During the first quarter of this year, she saw a surge in the number of clients seeking consultations on legal issues.
“I was asked, ‘What is the president going to do? Will DACA [Deferred Action for Children Arrivals] be there tomorrow?’” Smith said.
“We try to be balanced in the information we give,” she continued. “We don’t want to cause panic but we want the information out there.”
Smith explains to people that the biggest difference under the Trump administration is the system of priorities.
For example, a person who entered the country illegally but has been in the United States for 25 years, avoided criminal activity, has a family, holds a good job or even owns their own business, has traditionally had little to worry about with ICE. Now, a minor traffic infraction or a drunken driving citation can be grounds for deportation.
She has adjusted her advice accordingly.
“I just have to assume nobody can take any step that puts them at risk,” she said.
Sophia Clark, a Roaring Fork Valley resident who is hotline manager for the statewide Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said the main focus these days is working on deportation defense as the new administration’s policies become clear.
“There has definitely been a big shift,” she said. “It doesn’t happen right away. It becomes clearer over time.”
What is becoming clear is that every immigrant living in the country illegally fits the current prioritization list for deportation. In addition to conviction of a criminal offense, a person now can be deported for being charged for a criminal offense, she noted.
“It’s been expanded in such a big and vague way that anybody is a target,” Clark said.
However, she said it’s tough to gauge if immigrants are living with any greater level of fear. A record number of people were deported during President Barack Obama’s tenure.
“It’s not that previously things were great,” Clark said. “People living in fear with deportation is not a new thing.”
That said, it appears immigration laws will be pursued more aggressively by Trump, she said.
“It’s the agenda of this administration to remove as many people as possible,” Clark said.
English in Action, a nonprofit organization that matches students who want to learn the English language with tutors, avoids politics. Even so, its level of activity was boosted by Trump’s election, according to executive director Lara Beaulieu.
“I think we’ve seen an increase in the number of people who are seeking citizenship,” she said.
Students have the perception that citizenship tests have become tougher, with applicants being required to show greater command and knowledge of English. So they want to delve further into their studies of the language.
There’s been another big change over the past 10 months.
“Since the last election we’ve seen an increase in the number of people who want to be volunteer tutors,” Beaulieu said.
That’s a good thing because there is always a waiting list for students to get a tutor.
“The list for the last four years or so has been about 100 people,” she said.
Bernal, who is on English In Action’s board of directors, said he has witnessed greater levels of activism in the Anglo community rather than the Latino community since the 2016 election. Many Latinos don’t want to be in the spotlight because of the perceived risks of deportation and because they’re busy trying to feed their families.
“It is hard to get the immigrant community involved in political activism because of the amount of work they have — three jobs at the same time in a lot of cases, seven days a week — and because of deportation fear,” he said.
“When not having ‘papers’ makes you feel like you don’t have rights or that you are a criminal, it’s hard to have a voice,” Bernal said.
But the political activism of the Anglo community is “much appreciated,” he said.
“Different nonprofit organizations and churches are preparing positions and actions in case it gets uglier,” he said.
Bernal said comments by listeners of the radio station indicate they support ICE cracking down on criminals.
“It’s the honest people they care about,” he said.
Most people in the immigrant community want a way for honest people to be able to secure the documents that “allow them to do their work with dignity,” he said.
Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition is staying busy by interacting directly with immigrants facing issues, lobbying the Colorado Congressional delegation on legislation and encouraging local law enforcement agencies in Colorado to distance themselves from ICE’s policies. The organization hasn’t gotten any busier this year simply because it was already busy, according to Clark.
“I would say we were already ramped up,” she said, “and we’ve stayed ramped up.”