DENVER– Amid the heated and highly focused national debate on immigration reform and border security, Denver Mayor and candidate for governor John Hickenlooper is seeking to present a broader view on the matter. At an event in Denver last week toasting the Biennial of the Americas Celebration, a month-long series of events scheduled for July, Hickenlooper emphasized the benefits that have accrued to the United States and Colorado through immigration and stated his aim to promote Colorado as a site for international travel and trade.
Hickenlooper told a crowd of roughly 300 gathered at the half-refurbished McNichols building that the Biennial would introduce Denver and Colorado as fertile ground for future cultural and financial growth. “No one understands and everyone takes it for granted that Brazil in a short time will become the fifth-largest economy in the world. Yet no one in Colorado is trying build bridges. The best way to build bridges is through culture,” he said. “This is an event that will bring together what is essentially American, in the broadest sense of that word,” Hickenlooper told the Colorado Independent. “I think for Denver to get ahead of the rest of the country through this festival– ten years, twenty years from now, it could pay huge dividends.”
Hickenlooper said the recurring event would create “long-term global impacts” that would help to “fight against prejudices developed as a lack of understanding.” The event will draw artists, musicians, intellectuals, diplomats and business leaders and innovators from 32 Western Hemisphere nations to Denver this July and every other year thereafter.
“We all see the bias against any type of immigration right now,” he said. “Yet if you look at the largest companies that were formed in the last 20 years, the ones that create all the jobs, more than half were formed by immigrants from all over the world.”
News of the Biennial came as politicians and activist groups are calling on businesses to boycott Arizona, where harsh anti-illegal immigration laws were signed into effect last week. The new laws give state authorities broad power to seek out illegal immigrants and arrest them. Rights groups see the laws as an attack on constitutional rights and a recipe for racial profiling, lawsuits and community tension. The Mexican government has issued an advisory against travel to Arizona, where Latino visitors could well end up in jail. Hickenlooper’s Republican opponent in the race for governor, Scott McInnis, made national news Wednesday when he said he would seek to institute Arizona-style laws in Colorado.
“Arizona’s law is troubling,” said Hickenlooper in a release that lamented the gridlock in Washington that has produced only failure in the effort to reform the nation’s immigration policy. “I am not surprised states are trying to address immigration policy because Congress hasn’t. People throughout the country are justified in feeling angry over the failure of the federal government to deal with this issue. We need a nonpartisan approach to solve this problem for the entire country and enforceable reform that doesn’t abridge the basic freedom of our citizens.”
Denver councilmember-at-large Douglas Linkhart agreed that, now more than ever, Denver needed to reach out to global trade partners. He said the city was not as welcoming as it could be and said that it was important to show connections to major trading partners more visibly “so that people really see Denver as a hub of North-South trade and tourism.”
“Denver is a multicultural city but we don’t really show it,” Linkhart said. “At the city county building there’s not a word of Spanish anywhere. If you go in the new jail, though, there is a lot of Spanish, which is unfortunate, but at least we are getting the idea that if we build a building, we should include Spanish.”
Despite the publicity the Biennial is sure to produce, Hickenlooper said he wouldn’t be using the event as a platform for his gubernatorial aspirations. “This is about the Biennial. This is not about John Hickenlooper. I am going to try and stay away from it.”
“The Biennial of the Americas will be the most important international event to happen in Denver in a decade,” he said. “We can make this into something that’s a prize tool, not just for Denver but for the state.”