The first week of Donald Trump’s presidency sent shockwaves across Colorado as news of pending immigration actions began to leak out of his administration.
One anticipated executive order to limit who can enter the United States was reverberating across our state where nearly 2,000 refugees have settled within the past year.
According to a draft order obtained by the New York Times and other news outlets, the president plans a temporary halt on all refugees allowed into the U.S., and is imposing at least a month-long suspension on visas for anyone from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen.
Syrian refugees would face an indefinite ban. The draft also says the United States would eventually cut the number of allowable resettlements by more than half, from 110,000 to 50,000.
Refugees and asylees living in Colorado were quick to speak out, calling on the new president to re-think his plans, and sharing personal stories about their own journey to America.
“I had to seek asylum, and It was not easy,” said human rights activist Karak Miakol who was arrested and tortured in South Sudan and fled to the U.S. three years ago. Her children, she said, are still in Africa. She told them in recent days she fears Trump’s plans might mean they won’t make it to America where she hoped to help them get asylum.
On Thursday, Miakol was one of dozens to rally in a park near the Statehouse in Denver.
Elsewhere in Colorado, refugee program workers are bracing for Trump’s anticipated orders, but they don’t know what to expect. Lutheran Family Services in Colorado Springs helps 170 refugees re-settle in the state’s second-largest city each year. Some refugees currently in the Springs could be affected by Trump’s actions if they have family members stuck overseas who are in the process of being re-settled here. Lutheran Family Services says it has about 100 more refugees in the pipeline until September.
“Are we bracing for whatever? I think we have to,” said the group’s program director Floyd Preston. “We just don’t know what that looks like.”
Mutatz Said, a refugee from Iraq who resettled in Denver in 2014, said the news would be devastating to his friends who fled Iraq to Turkey and have been waiting for a few years now for their applications to come to the U.S. to be processed. “All they dream about is to come to the U.S. with their families and to live a good life, a safe life,” he told The Colorado Independent.
In related news …
President Donald Trump’s executive order Wednesday to deny federal grant money to sanctuary cities may have more bark than bite, say some immigration experts.
The order does little to define the term “sanctuary city,” which has no legal definition. It appears to require that cities communicate with immigration authorities, which most Colorado jurisdictions already do — even the ones that consider themselves sanctuaries.
The County Sheriffs’ Association, which represents sheriffs in Colorado’s 64 counties, issued a statement Wednesday saying its members will continue to refuse to comply with requests by federal immigration agents to detain people beyond their release dates without a warrant. States and local governments are not required to enforce immigration law, a federal responsibility.
Immigration attorney James Lamb, who works for the Denver-based Chan Law Firm, told The Colorado Independent that the order is “a little bit of smoke and mirrors here. It’s provocative, without necessarily having much substance.”
Still, the order prompted statements of defiance from city officials across Colorado.
Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones said, “We are not going to violate the constitutional rights of immigrants in our community just because our new president wants us to.” Boulder declared itself a sanctuary city in early January.
As immigration rights advocate Gabriela Flora sees it, Trump’s crackdown acts more as a scare tactic, or an attempt “to discourage communities” from taking a public stand for immigrant rights.
Colorado cities appear committed against the order, but it may be working elsewhere. Yesterday, Miami-Dade County in Florida announced it will again comply with federal detention requests.
A Colorado Independent investigation has found that Colorado Technical University in Colorado Springs has generated more complaints from veterans using GI Bill benefits than any other college in the country except for two of the nation’s largest for-profit chains.
And, according to new U.S. Department of Education data, Colorado performs poorly in a regulation that distinguishes between affordable career education programs that lead to well-paying jobs and those that don’t based on the debt-to-income ratios of their graduates.
Nationally, one-fourth of these programs did not achieve a passing grade, nearly all of them run by for-profit colleges.
But in Colorado, the problem is worse. One of every three career education programs fell below a passing grade.
Of eight veterans who agreed to talk to The Independent about their experiences with Colorado Tech, only one said he had completed a degree program and found a job in his field of study. Most said they experienced pressure to enroll, were misled by the school about their job promises and are left with heavy debts.
State lawmakers aim to propose a bill this session to better regulate for-profit colleges.
Democrats in the state House of Representatives this week said no for a fifth time to a bill that would have legalized discrimination under the guise of protecting religious freedom.
Representatives Steve Humphrey of Eaton and Dave Williams of Colorado Springs, both Republicans, hoped the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee would approve a Colorado version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a measure adopted in at least 20 other states that opponents claim legalizes discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer residents.
During Tuesday’s four-hour hearing, a prominent Denver business leader, Kelly Brough [BRUFF] of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce begged lawmakers to stop running bills like this. Not only is it morally wrong, she argued, measures like this would be harmful to Colorado business, as it was for Indiana after Indiana’s then-governor, Mike Pence, signed a similar law in 2015. That law cost that state about sixty million dollars in lost events and businesses that abandoned expansion plans.
Colorado has its own history with legalized discrimination, dating back to Amendment 2, which voters approved in 1992. That law barred local governments from adopting laws that would bar discrimination based on sexual preference.
The amendment was eventually declared unconstitutional by the U S Supreme Court, but it cost Colorado about twenty-five million dollars in lost business in the first six months after the law passed. That’s about forty-two million dollars in today’s dollars.
The Jefferson County Board of Education last night began the process to close five district elementary schools in order to help close a multi-million dollar budget shortfall.
Chalkbeat Colorado reports that four of the five schools, which serve some of the district’s poorest families, have declining enrollments and are housed in older buildings with high maintenance costs.
Closing the five schools, which enroll 850 students, will save the district three point five million dollars per year.
The proposed closures come on the heels of a decision last November by Jeffco voters to reject two bond measures that would have been spent on buildings and improving teacher compensation. That’s a big issue for the district, which claims its teacher pay can’t compete with neighboring school districts such as Denver.
For more on these and other local news stories go to ColoradoIndependent.com.
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