Over 70 people gathered yesterday at Roosevelt Park to demand a pathway for citizenship for the over 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.
At 5:30 pm, children and adults stood by the park’s pavilion listening to speeches by those directly impacted, then marched the streets of Longmont asking for justice for all.
“What do we want, people? Justice, justice. When do we want it? Now, now.” People repeated this and other chants over and over again as they walked together to the corner of Sixth Avenue and Main Street.
The Citizenship for All March marked the 100 days since President Joe Biden took his Oath of Office making promises around immigration reform, including a new system to responsibly manage and secure the border and keep families and communities safe.
"It is time that we raise our voices. We are marching to be heard," said Ingrid Encalada, founding member of No Mas Chuecos, over the phone. “We want immigration reform to become a reality. We want Congress to stop playing games.”
No Mas Chuecos is a campaign seeking to decrease the risks of criminalization and deportation for immigrants in this country.
Encalada has been living in the U.S. for over ten years. She left her native home in Chihuahua chasing the American dream and has been fighting the immigration system since, she said.
In 2018, Encalada began living in sanctuary at a Boulder church with her three children, all of which are U.S. citizens.
"Sanctuary places open their doors to you like a home, it is your decision if you want to leave or not, but if immigration catches you, you can be deported," she said over the phone. "This and other churches have opened their doors to me in various ways, allowing me to keep my family together."
Places that offer sanctuary are often churches, schools and hospitals. These are places where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, cannot step in, she said, adding these institutions do not automatically offer sanctuary. They must be willing to welcome those seeking refuge.
In 2010, Encalada was arrested by local police and placed on an immigration hold for not being able to show proper documentation, she said. After years of bad legal representation, she obtained a pardon by Gov. Jared Polis in 2019, which cleared her criminal record and pushed her down the priority list for deportation.
"Many lawyers call my case a cancer, it needs a lot of treatment," she said. "The pardon I received helps me because I am no longer a priority for deportation, if I want to fix (my papers) and an immigration reform passes, then I can fix it, I don't have something to stop me."
The citizenship march in Longmont was part of the Eyes on Ice movement — a series of local forums that happens across the state calling on President Biden to take immediate administrative action on six key demands.
Those demands include stopping deportations, closing detention centers and pending deportation cases, and an end to the 287 (g) program, which allows the Department of Homeland Security to deputize state and local law enforcement officers to perform the functions of federal immigration agents, according to a press release.
During yesterday’s speeches, Guadalupe Lopez, a community activist residing in Ft. Morgan and a Guatemalan immigrant, said she and her husband were detained for several days in 2012 after being stopped by a state patrol.
That is when Lopez’s “nightmare” began, she said. “We were locked up in the Aurora detention center for four days … separated from our children. We did not know if we were going to be released and be able to go back to our children or if they were going to deport us. "
ICE made over 100,000 administrative arrests — or arrests for violations to civil immigration laws — and deported more than 180,000 individuals in 2020, according to data reported by the Migration Policy Institute.
Movements at the local level have great implications for what is happening nationally, according to Lisa Duran, executive director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, or CIRC.
“I cannot stress enough how important local work, local voices are to what is happening in Washington D.C., especially around the need to reform our immigration system,” she said over the phone. “People can really feel like it doesn’t matter, ‘they will never listen to me, a senator will never return my call,’ it can feel like they are so distanced. But I want to assure people reading this that elected officials are tuned in to what is happening on the ground.”
Coordinated efforts with unified messaging like yesterday’s march or the placement of pro-immigration-justice banners in public places in six cities across the state, including Longmont, earlier this month, help activists connect with each other and build strength, Duran said.
“Communities like Longmont are the foundation of this effort,” Duran said. “We do this precisely because of the experiences of people in Longmont with regard to how the immigration system does not meet their needs and, in fact, actively works to destroy their families. It has to stop.”
Ana Karina Casas, a Boulder resident, has been living in the United States for 22 years and has participated in the movement by sending letters and emails and making calls to government officials and representatives over the years.
“There have been no changes. The only thing we have seen is negative things for our community, more deportations, more separated families, it is the only thing we have seen after all our struggle, ”she said. "We are tired, it has been too much, too much suffering."
Boulder Valley School District teacher, Boulder County resident and march participant, Ann Morrill, said she has known Encalada for a while and has supported her through her time in sanctuary and believes that after 40 years of no meaningful immigration reform, it is time.
“We have a very small window in which many, many people’s lives can be made much better, people in the community who have been paying taxes, people who many brought over small children, and cannot have a future … they deserve a future,” she said. “We have an opportunity for the first time in years to maybe make some change. That’s why I’m here.”
Duran said over the phone that many times people who are unfamiliar with the immigrant experience are shocked to learn about the brutalities undocumented individuals often face.
“The immigration system functions at the benefit of large employers who can hire labor very cheaply. We’ve got people who ... work for lower wages, who are fearful for their presence,” she said. “We don’t want any group to be treated brutally because that means any other group could be treated brutally, if we allow it to happen over here the possibility is that it happens elsewhere, too.”