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Opinion: Do what’s best for all Coloradans by protecting our immigrant community

In 2014, I sat across the kitchen table of a community leader in southwest Denver who sighed, “Angela, se requiere mucho coraje para vivir esta vida.” Angela, it requires a lot of righteous indignation to live this life.

At the time I was working as a community organizer alongside parishioners from St. Cajetan’s Catholic Parish to expand the state’s driver’s license program for undocumented Coloradans, which was originally passed by the state legislature in 2013 through the Colorado Road and Community Safety Act (SB 251).

The woman was frustrated at her inability to secure an appointment at the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to access a license due to insufficient appointment availability and the limited number of DMVs offering access to these licenses.

Angela Cobián

As she explained it, making driver’s licenses inaccessible to longtime Colorodans simply because of their immigration status was preventing thousands of individuals from becoming properly licensed, registered, insured and able to get their cars inspected, putting all drivers on the road at greater risk.  

Sounds like a common-sense policy everyone should be behind, right? Wrong!

Often, politics of xenophobia ignore principles of liberty and common sense, and recklessly endanger the whole community, immigrants and citizens alike. 

Thankfully, in the case of driver’s licenses and in the face of opposition, legislators and community and business leaders rallied behind legislation that would expand the number of DMVs that can issue licenses to undocumented Coloradans. The legislation was passed during the 2019 legislative session and implemented early this year. 

This victory was possible because lawmakers looked beyond partisan politics and harmful rhetoric, and did what was best for all Coloradans. 

We need to keep this in mind, heed the warnings of partisan politics and do what’s best for Colorado during this time of need. Right now this means responding to the fact that Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents are continuing to detain immigrant families in the midst of the global coronavirus outbreak, which is not only unconscionable, but counterproductive to public health efforts in the state of Colorado.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Elected officials and officers should be using their time and resources to keep families safe, not conducting enforcement actions that put people at even more risk by spreading fear throughout immigrant communities.

As Treasurer of the Denver Board of Education, a former Denver Public Schools (DPS) teacher and the daughter of Mexican immigrants, my primary concern during this difficult time is the safety and well-being of Denver students.

Our board and superintendent made the difficult decision to close schools on an extended spring break to help “flatten the curve” and keep our teachers, staff members, students and their families safe. We worked with the DPS Foundation and the City of Denver to ensure that students and their adult caregivers can access breakfast and lunch at 11 schools across the city.

By providing these meals, our local community has put a stake in the ground to ensure that no DPS student or family goes hungry as we combat this virus as a community.

Meanwhile, ICE is undermining Denver and Colorado’s efforts to protect and provide for the community by needlessly creating fear and distrust of local institutions. 

Just last week, two Denver Public Schools parents were caught in the deportation dragnet: one near a high school and one a mother who was on her way to pick up her children from school. Both parents were driving lawfully on our roads. Neither has had any prior contact with the criminal justice system, and neither poses a public safety threat to the Denver community. 

The anxiety arising from these continued enforcement actions is deterring immigrants across our state from seeking medical attention during the coronavirus outbreak, for fear of ending up in ICE custody. This makes no one safer.

Sadly, the two detained DPS parents are currently incarcerated at the Aurora immigration detention facility, where, as The Denver Post reported, 10 people are quarantined “for possible exposure to the coronavirus.” When people, including undocumented Coloradans, are unable to access the public health care system, everyone in the community is at risk of the virus spreading rapidly across our city, state and nation.

Let’s heed the lesson we learned when we passed expanded driver’s license access legislation and call on ICE to cease all enforcement actions, lest they create a culture and mass incarceration system where both xenophobia and coronavirus thrive, and all of us perish.

Angela Cobián is Treasurer of the Denver Board of Education.

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