With the inauguration of Donald Trump only two days away, Colorado’s undocumented immigrants are contending with fear and uncertainty that he will unleash mass deportations, including of those now protected by an Obama-era executive order.
Governor John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock have said they won’t enforce mandatory deportation orders, but such statements offer no enforceable protections for the undocumented.
The Colorado Independent spoke with attorneys, activists and undocumented immigrants to learn how they’re preparing themselves for an uncertain future. Immigrant rights activist Jeanette Vizguerra, an undocumented immigrant who continues to fight to remain in the United States with her children after an 8-year struggle, is working to expand the state’s church sanctuary program, which offers protection to immigrants facing deportation. There are currently only two churches in the state that offer protection in the form of a place to stay.
Immigration rights attorney Lisa Batten is telling her clients to lay low until they know what will happen, but many activists are speaking out. Several groups are planning to march in protest, in either Washington, D.C. or Denver, to demand that Congress reject calls for deportations.
Vizguerra hoped to travel to DC, but is still awaiting news from immigration authorities about her next stay of deportation. She said she will remain in Colorado with her three children for a few more days until she knows what will happen next.
Mike Johnston, a 42-year-old recently-term-limited senator who represented northeast Denver, on Tuesday launched a Democratic campaign for governor hitting all fronts: a splashy speech, a slick video, a top-notch consultant, and a bold proposal complete with echoes of Bernie Sanders and FDR. Johnston is a Teach For America alum who wrote a book about his time teaching in rural Mississippi, and later served as a high school principal for six years. He went to Harvard. He went to Yale. He’s a big fan of the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” He advised President Barack Obama on education policy. The New York Times might have predicted his run last year by calling him one of 14 young Democrats to watch. He and his brother operate the Christiania lodge at Vail.
A central idea of Johnston’s campaign is what he is calling “The Lifetime Opportunity Promise,” a plan to subsidize education for workers pushed out of jobs by automation and globalization. Laid-off workers in jobs such as trucking that might disappear, could get training and certification in growth industries paid for by the state if they commit to working for the State of Colorado on weekends on disaster relief or anything else they can handle for a few years.
“It’s almost like a merger of a job-training program and a national service program at the state level with the focus on long-term investment of workers and long-term investment in the state,” Johnston says. He says he doesn’t know of another state-based program like it elsewhere in the country.
Political observers say a broader backlash to Obamacare repeal might be afoot as protests continue nationwide and a video goes viral of Colorado Republican Congressman Mike Coffman, a supporter of repeal, walking out on waiting constituents.
Coffman held a scheduled meeting at the Aurora Central Library last Saturday afternoon expecting to meet one-on-one with constituents. But he was faced with more than 100 people, many of whom wanted answers about what will happen to their healthcare coverage if Coffman helps dismantle the Affordable Care Act as he says he wants to do.
Coffman met with small groups, and then left out a back door before the scheduled ending as a TV camera from 9News rolled. The question moving forward is what Saturday’s strife might mean in the broader context of a brisk effort in Washington to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Republican members of Congress have started taking early votes to gut the law. Last week Coffman, along with Colorado’s three other GOP congressmen, penned a newspaper column urging repeal. “What happened in Colorado I could easily see it being replicated in different parts of the country,” Lawrence Glickman, a Cornell University professor who specializes in American political history, told the Independent.
Coffman was quick to frame the situation as a partisan stunt. But those who were there say it was more organic. One of them was Shirley Proppe, who works at a local nonprofit. She told the Colorado Independent she doesn’t understand why Coffman didn’t just turn the meeting into a town hall. The crowd became chaotic at times, but it was not an angry mob, she said. “We didn’t want it to turn into something like that,” Proppe said Monday. “We didn’t want to scare the guy. We wanted to talk to him. And his people just simply said no.”< A controversial proposal in Lafayette to enact a citywide Climate Bill of Rights was tabled by City Council Tuesday night due to the absence of three council members. But a packed room and passionate speeches showed that the issue has struck a nerve with both communities and industries across the Front Range. The Bill of Rights seeks to codify the right to a healthy climate and environment, and to legalize civil disobedience when that right is threatened. Following the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling last May that cities have no authority to regulate or ban fracking, residents in Lafayette and elsewhere increasingly see direct action as their only remaining option to push back against the oil and gas industry. Critics of the measure, including the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, called the proposal is illegal and overly broad, and said it could lead to neighbors protesting neighbors for activities such as barbecuing and driving cars. But supporters said the law is necessary to protect residents from the health and safety risks of fracking, and is constitutional under Coloradans' right to self-govern. Many speakers at last night's meeting invoked the words of civil rights champions, including Martin Luther King Jr, arguing that when laws are unjust, they must be changed. The small room wasn't large enough to hold the more than 100 people who showed up, leaving another 100 or so people waiting outside a glass door. At the end of the comment period, the door was opened and a large group broke into a rendition of the old union song, "Which side are you on?" For more on these and other local news stories go to ColoradoIndependent.com.