A loud protest outside of the building housing Sen. Cory Gardner’s Denver office was a public display of pressure prefacing a visit to his office on Tuesday.
As activists marched around the building holding signs that read “Close Cory Gardner’s concentration camps” and “Abolish ICE,” a delegation of three made their way through security and into the senator’s office to deliver a message.
Lupe Lopez, Jose Luis Garcia and Jennifer Piper, who led the rally, were greeted politely by Gardner’s staffer, Madeline Quartaro. Gardener wasn’t in, but she offered to take the letter they’d prepared. It urged Gardener to cut funding to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But Lopez asked if they could speak in person instead of through the glass of Quartaro’s receptionist booth. She accepted and invited them into an adjacent conference room decorated with photos of snowy mountainsides, a gold pan commemorating RTD’s G Line and a historic map of Denver.
Piper translated Lopez’s Spanish as she spoke.
“We’re very worried and concerned about the deaths we’re seeing at our southern border,” she said. “We’re here today to inform Senator Gardner that we really need his leadership.”
Quartaro took notes as Lopez reiterated that Gardner should defund ICE.
“We really believe that these funds should instead be reinvested in our communities,” she said. “In schools, in healthcare, in infrastructure.”
The letter they delivered pointed out that $324 billion has been appropriated to U.S. Customs and Border Protection since the Department of Homeland Security was formed in 2003. Deaths of migrants in federal custody and open-air detention facilities, it stated, warrant defunding the agencies who carry out an “inhumane” agenda set by President Trump.
Gardner has only mentioned immigration issues twice in press releases posted on his official website. Both statements were brief and affirmed his commitment to “fund border security.”
Lopez said she doesn’t expect the senator’s mind to change right away. She and other members of the “Not1More Deportation” group are committed to raising the issue with him again and again until he responds.
“I have a lot of faith,” she said. “I know that if we keep visiting, at some point he’ll pay attention to us.”
Though the senator wasn’t in, Lopez said the short meeting was better than the one she had in a hallway with Gardner’s staff outside his Washington, D.C. office last week.
“They said they only had 2 minutes,” she said. “It felt really rushed and they weren’t really welcoming.”
A second issue Piper raised with Quartaro is one she hopes will be answered sooner. Gardner supports the “Dream Act,” which would ensure protections for residents with status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. She wants him to answer whether he will support the “Dream and Promise Act,” which would also ensure protections for people living legally in the country under Temporary Protected Status (TPS). A version of the measure passed the U.S. House last month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not scheduled it for a vote in his chamber.
TPS holders come from a select set of nations with individual allowances to live in the U.S. It has usually been invoked after a natural disaster forced people to leave their home countries. In 2017, the Trump administration announced it would revoke status for people from most of the countries granted TPS protection. TPS holders have generally been overlooked as the national debate focused on DACA recipients. Status for some, like those from El Salvador, is set to expire as early as September.
Piper said she’s tried for more than a year to get Gardner’s stance on Dream and Promise, but has yet to get an answer. It’s important, she said, because the act only needs three Republican senators to support the measure.
“I’ll flag that,” Quartaro said. “Definitely.”