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Colorado Immigrants Ask Hard Hitting Questions To Senators About Citizenship, Build Back Better, and Controversial Budget Increases

March 16, 2022
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Denver, CO – Faith leaders, advocates, and immigrant community members joined with Senator Hickenlooper and Senator Bennet for a public town hall Monday evening. Over 200 people from Montrose to Fort Morgan, Pueblo to Fort Collins attended. Event speakers expressed support for a budget reconciliation package resourcing our social safety net and recognizing the critical importance of including all Coloradans.

Of particular importance to organizers: Congress’ over resourcing of ICE and CBP in the FY22 omnibus bill, inclusion of a path to citizenship in reconciliation and limiting the use of tax dollars for detention and along the border in the FY 23 budget. Immigrants and their loved ones shared their personal testimonies on the critical importance of citizenship and an end to deportation policies and agencies that endanger Colorado communities.

Children of immigrants raised their voice in a ten minute video detailing how our failed immigration policies impact their view of their country. Aanahny Zalidivar led off the town hall. “I am a 13 year old US born citizen from Denver Colorado and my father was deported two years and three months ago.This has impacted both our family as a whole, as well as each one of us negatively. As a child affected by this broken immigration system, I would like to be the voice of millions of other children whose lives have been impacted by forced family separations when I asked my first question, which is “Will you use every means possible to reunify and protect our parents and families?”

The event followed the highly controversial passage of a budget resolution for FY22 last week. The resolution increased already high Trump era funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to $14.8 billion with an increase of $284.7 million from fiscal year 2021 and a slight decrease in funding for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to $14.8 million with a decrease of $428.2 million from a historic high in fiscal year 2021. While the budget does direct funding for positive policy changes such as increased use of body cameras for ICE and Border Patrol agents, increased funding for USCIS to clear years-long immigration court backlogs, and no funding for increased ICE personnel, much of the funding increase is dedicated to “enforcement work”. Enforcement of the nation’s immigration code translates to breaking apart communities, separating parents from their children, hunting down migrant families, turning away asylum seekers, and continuing to detain and deport thousands. Congress unnecessarily allocated far higher amounts than the Biden Administration requested.

“We are outraged that Democratic leadership passed a budget that maintains and increases funding for such rogue agencies despite promises of a more humane immigration system, going above and beyond what the administration asked for. Both agencies have been accused of numerous civil and human rights violations and are embroiled in years-long lawsuits, internal investigations, and damning media reports. We heard in last night’s town hall the terrible results of these agencies’ work in Colorado. Continued and increased funding for enforcement work will only increase their capacity for more abuse,” said Raquel Lane-Arellano, Political Manger at Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.

Senator Hickenlooper explained the FY22 budget “Cuts fundings for customs and border patrol by several hundred million dollars, 420 million dollars less than last year. That’s still not enough to cut. To my knowledge there’s no new funding for additional personnel immigration enforcement personnel or for the Remain in Mexico Program. I think it’s a little bit over $20 million to investigate complaints of misconduct by DHS personnel. And it’s not just to investigate the complaints. It is also to get to a conclusion to resolve them. I think that the important part is to make sure that we don’t just investigate and do nothing; that the investigation lead to action.”

Senator Bennet also explained that “a bill we passed last week includes $5 million for the immigration service to address the visa backlogs that are keeping families apart.”

A full recording of the town hall event can be found here Recording (link) Transcript (available upon request)

“Both parties have over-resourced ICE and CBP for more than a decade. We appreciate Congress’ attention to accountability and oversight in this FY22 package, however there is no excuse that can justify increasing funds to ICE and CBP. Leadership in the House and Senate should have directed ICE and CBP to reprioritize their existing budgets instead. We expect the Colorado congressional delegation to introduce amendments to the FY23 budget reallocating our tax dollars from ICE and CBP towards representation for people in immigration court, organizations that assist refugee and asylum seekers in beginning life in the US and more quickly addressing backlogs,” added Jennifer Piper of the American Friends Service Committee

“Immigration reform is broadly popular with people in Colorado and across the country, and Colorado has become a leader in bi-partisan, pro-immigration policy. In 2021 alone, our state legislators passed 11 new pro-immigrant laws because our elected leaders understand what Colorado voters demand. It’s time for Democratic leadership in Washington DC to step up and do the same and lead with immigration justice as our state legislators do in Denver,“ said Gabriela Flora, of the American Friends Service Committee, “ICE and Border Patrol are overfunded and abusive agencies. It is simply unacceptable to continue such astronomical funding for them.”

Both senators indicated they support inclusion of a pathway to citizenship in the upcoming reconciliation package. Senator Bennet indicated he is unsure there are 50 votes for that in his caucus. Advocates pressed him to bring it to a vote, “ no matter the outcome”, expressing it’s time for Leadership in the House and Senate to put members on the record, not only citizenship, but on critical issues like the child tax credit free and reduced lunch for kids across the country, lowering medical and prescription drug costs and addressing climate change.

Senator Bennet  

  • On lifting Title 42 “public health law shouldn’t be used to shut down asylum”
  • On citizenship in the reconciliation “I believe that we should find a way to do this through reconciliation, as you say, But I also don’t believe that there are 50 senators here to do that, so I don’t want to give you false hope.”
  • On children separated from their families at the border “This week i’m going to send a letter to President binding to the administration, encouraging them to use all their authority to reunite, you know reunite families and will ask for an updated plan on how to prevent these types of actions in the future

Senator Hickenlooper

  • on a pathway to citizenship “Yes, I support a pathway to citizenship, I have for a long time, and I support putting that pathway in the reconciliation bill, I think it qualifies in every way. I am committed to this to citizenship for for all every all 11 million or 20 million undocumented immigrants living United States.”
  • On the FY23 budget “Yes I will vote against them [increases to ICE and CBP’s budgets]”

The town hall was organized by the American Friends Service Committee and cosponsored by ACLU CO, AILA-Colorado, Boulder Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Immigration Task Force,Broomfield and Adams County Faith leaders table, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Colorado Jobs with Justice, Colorado Mayday Club, Colorado People’s Alliance, Denver Justice and Peace Committee (DJPC), Faith Leaders in Action, Pueblo, CO, Immigrant Rights Working Group of Denver DSA, Indivisible Front Range Resistance, ISAAC of Northern Colorado, Loretto Community, Metropolitan Denver North Islamic Center, Mi Familia Vota, Pueblo Faith Leaders in Action: Immigration Justice, Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy, Network, Rosa Belongs Here. SEIU Local 105, The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, The Peace and Social Justice Committee of Boulder Friends Meeting, The Refuge, Together Colorado, YMCA of Metropolitan Denver