On March 4, 2023, Immigrant Pathways Colorado (IPC) sponsored an interactive workshop — Boots on the Ground: The Humanitarian Crisis in Denver –at Spring International Language Center in Littleton, Colorado.
Forty people enjoyed coffee and donuts provided by FirstBank and were in attendance when Co-Chair Susan Thornton welcomed participants and described IPC’s three major projects.
- Making self-development grants to immigrants who are documented and have very low income,
- Providing scholarships for immigrant students studying at Arapahoe Community College, and
- Conducting interactive workshops to educate the community about immigrants and the American immigration system.
Susan introduced Jennifer Gueddiche, Principal at Community-Based Consulting and IPC Board member, as the program’s moderator.
Failed Federal Policies
Jennifer in turn introduced Julia Guzman, immigration attorney at Guzman Immigration, member of the Executive Committee of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Colorado Chapter, and Board member of IPC.
Julia spoke about Title 42, which was established during the Trump administration at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to immediately expel almost all migrants, citing public health concerns.
She noted that the recent influx of migrants has come mostly from Central and South American countries – particularly Venezuela, Nicaragua and Colombia — where people are fleeing poverty, oppression, violence and a changing and dangerous climate.
“Fearing for their lives, they encounter many barriers to reaching the U.S.,” she said. But what they all have in common is, “They want to work.”
Julia confirmed that paperwork filed by asylees can take five to 10 years to process. In response to why it’s taking so long, she said, “In Denver immigration court alone, there is a backlog of over 20,000 cases waiting to be heard.”
Planning to Migrate Can Take Months or Years
The second speaker was Marlene Bedoya, Communications Manager and Development Officer for the Justice and Mercy Legal Aid Center (JAMLAC).
Herself an immigrant, Marlene told those assembled that migrants often start their journey to the U.S. many months or even years before they actually leave their homes. Due to oppression and poverty, she felt that her only option was to leave her home country.
She fled to Ecuador, where she stayed for six years, then to Columbia, where she resided for three years, and then to Panama before trying to cross the Rio Grande multiple times. There was no way to come to the U.S. legally, she said, adding that there are thousands of stories of people who are taking serious risks, including risking their lives, to attempt to enter the U.S.
Immigrants Display “Amazing Resiliency”
Claudia Villa spoke next. She is an immigration attorney and new Legal Entrepreneurs for Justice Residence of JAMLAC. As a volunteer immigration attorney, she spoke about the for-profit detention center in Denver where those who are incarcerated work for extremely low wages ($2 per hour) and then are charged high prices for snacks and necessities, etc.
These people have no legal representation (no court-appointed attorney) to speak in their defense, and so a greatly reduced likelihood of being granted relief.
Shelters in Denver are completely full now, Claudia said, full of men, women and children of all ages. The common question among them all who are sheltered is, “How can I get legal status? And how can I work?”
Through it all, Claudia said she sees the amazing resiliency of the immigrants who are coming to this country.
Persevering Despite All Odds
Norma Lopez, an immigrant from Mexico City, told very moving stories of attempting to enter the United States at the border. Because of extreme poverty in Mexico, she took a bus to the U.S. border, where she hired a man (a “coyote”) to take her across the Rio Grande.
As they prepared to enter the U.S. in the dark of night, she saw lights and heard gunshots and screams. Her guide ran away, and in the dark, with no sense of where to go, she returned into Mexico.
But Norma’s desire for a better life did not end there. She worked and saved enough to buy two or three changes of clothing and pay for another “coyote,” and headed for the border again. This time, her paid guide led her over the border wall on a rope.
“I knew I could die trying,” she said, but she was determined, and ran all night without stopping to keep up with the guide.
Finally, a car approached and took the migrants who could pay on to the border. Norma had no money, so she had to keep walking.
Eventually Norma reached California, where she worked at any job she could get and saved so she would not be a burden to the United States.
She had important messages for other immigrants:
- Learn English. “You need to learn English so you know how to call 911 in an emergency,” she said, “and so you can read street signs when you are driving.”
- Don’t be afraid. Keep going – keep trying! Have an open mind about new customs in a new country.
- Most importantly, “Never give up!”
Ways to Help
Asked by participants how they could help, the speakers said that JAMLAC needs volunteers, especially those who speak Spanish. People released from detention may be put out the door in shorts during a bitterly cold winter day with no money, no warm clothing and no place to stay.
JAMLAC could use donations of money and other supplies to assist these newcomers.
Vera Ryan, IPC’s Co-Chair, brought the workshop to an amusing conclusion by noting that IPC also needs donations, and then by overseeing a drawing for the last remaining cookbook published by IPC – Together at the Table – and an apron with a similar message. She praised the speakers and thanked everyone for coming.