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To heal the world: Building an immigrant rights movement in Denver

Puppet holding sign that says families belong together
Press conference in front of Senator Bennet's office in Denver. Photo: Gabriela Flora / AFSC

What do safe communities really look like? That question has been the focus of many in Denver, a city that has been home to many immigrants over the past 20 years. For AFSC, the answer can only be found by bringing together immigrants and non-immigrants to work together to ensure the fair treatment of all of the city's residents and work for equal human rights. Listen to the voices of community members working with AFSC to support the rights of immigrants in the Denver area.

Produced by Madeline Schaefer. Intro music by Jon Watts. Other featured music includes Ana Tijoux, Boards of Canada, and Chancha via Circuito.

This podcast is part of a series, "Calling forth the goodness," which shares the stories of how AFSC works within communities to build peace from the ground up.  Subscribe to the podcast.

Learn more about how your meeting/church can get involved in immigrants' rights work on our resource page.

Transcript (Exerpt)

Madeline Schaefer:  Jose Guerrero is a slam poet out of Denver, Colorado. This past February, he was invited by AFSC to recite a poem at their monthly vigil outside of the Aurora immigrant detention center on the outskirts of Denver. Starting back in 2009, residents gather outside of the center every month to share about immigrant rights work going on the region and connect with those inside the detention center’s walls. By standing with the hundreds of incarcerated immigrants being held in the for-profit prison, they are putting a human face and human voice to an often invisible reality faced by many in Denver’s immigrant communities. 

Jose Guerrero: If the U.S. were to crumble, would Americans jump over their own borders and flock the streets of Mexico City/Would they seek refuge in Dafur or Somalia/Our perceptions on immigration could change very quickly. If Americans were to cross the desert...

Madeline Schaefer: It’s an interesting question—if United States citizens suddenly found themselves desperate for work and opportunity, would they—would we—flee to another country? Of course, all Americans, with the exception of the native people inhabiting the land, were fleeing economic hardship or some form of political oppression when they first came to this country as immigrants. 

It is easy to forget that part of the U.S.’s past, or to mis-remember U.S. history as steady, homogenous, and harmonious. But with the attacks of 9-11 and the collapse of the U.S. markets, anything looks better than the present state of affairs. People have been desperately searching for security and grasping at solutions to our crumbling economic system. Many blame immigrants as the source of our economic woes. And in the past decade, the anti-immigrant sentiment has grown to an almost fever pitch.  

Fortunately, people across the country are countering this anti-immigrant rhetoric. They are rejecting de-humanizing language while respecting the basic integrity of immigrants who are providing most of us with many of our basic resources. Over the past 15 years, AFSC has been part of a local movement in Denver, Colorado, to change the perception of immigration from one of fear to one of equality and community.

Denver, Colorado has seen a major influx in the number of Latino immigrants since 1994, after NAFTA was passed, forcing many farmers off their land and seeking opportunities in the United States. Many of those immigrants come from Mexico in search of opportunities for themselves and their families. Many immigrants work at jobs that pay below the living wage, under what are sometimes dangerous conditions. Some have legal citizenship; some do not. But all of them are part of the growing Denver community.

Danielle Short: Just goes to show that you never know what's gonna happen. You just never know what shifts in historical conditions are gonna happen.

Madeline Schaefer: Danielle Short, a member of Mountain View Meeting in Denver, was hired to work with AFSC in Denver in 1999 after living in central Mexico for many years, teaching Americans and Canadians about global issues by hosting dialogues with Mexicans who were working for social change. Many U.S. citizens she had met through the program came to the country with a deep misunderstanding and disconnection to the roots of immigration.