The battle over immigration policy generally happens at a national level and the big decisions are in Washington, D.C. But the city of Denver is offering its people a way to get involved: donate to the city’s legal fund.
At the end of a rally on the City and County Building steps Friday, Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson told the crowd that, in 2017, the city created a fund to help local immigrants access attorneys in cases involving deportation and legal residency. Bronson said Denver has “dedicated or raised” $530,000 so far, and City Council has budgeted another $200,000 next year for the fund. It’s a lot of money, she told the crowd, but not enough. People who want to help can do more than watch the headlines.
“The need for the legal services in the immigrant community is huge. It is massive, and it is unmet. Our current funding is simply not enough,” she said. “There is something that you can do. You can give. You can be a part of this fight.”
At Friday’s rally, elected leaders and immigrant residents hoped to send a message to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Tuesday will hear arguments on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The program enacted by President Barack Obama gives status to people who came to the country as children without authorization. Justices will decide if President Donald Trump’s administration can cancel DACA, which Trump has said is an unconstitutional program. It’s a fight that often seems out of reach for regular Denverites who want to support immigrants here.
As the Supreme Court’s hearing draws near, Bronson said she hopes residents will add dollars to the program’s coffers, which is stewarded by the Denver Foundation. The city will hold a reception and fundraiser at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Museo De Las Americas.
According to a report from the Denver Foundation, immigrants are 10 times more likely to remain in the country if they have access to legal aid. Since November 2018, the fund has distributed $382,500 to four organizations: the Justice and Mercy Legal Aid Clinic, Lutheran Family Services, the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network and the University of Denver.
Bronson told Denverite that it’s important for a third party to handle the money.
“A lot of immigrants don’t often trust government,” she said, adding that reliance on a community partner gives “people faith and confidence in approaching the fund”
“Some people are afraid to come out of the shadows to seek help.”
But Bronson admitted that the fund is just a short-term fix, something that might only “buy time” for families on the brink.
“The hope is that there would be a legislative remedy” to offer more permanent status sometime in the future, she told Denverite.
Gladis Ibarra, a DACA recipient who helped organize the rally with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said she’s more focused on comprehensive reform in Washington.
“DACA definitely has been like a Band-Aid, and I’m definitely grateful for it, but I think we can do better,” she told Denverite. “I think the real conversation is about our parents, our aunts and uncles who didn’t qualify for DACA, but also the new generation.”
More than 200,000 kids were either too young to apply for work authorization under the program or did not sign up before Trump announced he’d cancel the program, which resulted in a freeze on new applications. Those students are graduating from high schools across the country without pathways to legal work and, in some cases, higher education. This year, Colorado passed legislation allowing undocumented students to access financial aid.
But it will likely take a long battle for congress to pass a legislative fix. In June, the U.S. House passed the “Dream and Promise Act,” which would give DACA recipients a pathway to citizenship, but it has not yet come up for a vote in the Senate.
Addressing the crowd at Friday’s rally, Rep. Jason Crow said he would “continue to keep pressure on the U.S. Senate” to pass the measure, adding the fight is “a moral issue of our time.”
Ibarra said it’s “important to remember” that the nation’s political climate will likely change someday. She hopes that shift will allow her and others to legally access citizenship.
But for now, she said, she’s still waiting on higher powers to decide her fate.
“It’s a scary time,” she said. “I can put on a brave face, but the reality is a lot of it is not in my hands. I can only do so much.”