AURORA — City police officers directed small groups of senior and youth protesters away from Congressman Mike Coffman’s office here Thursday, issuing one trespassing citation, yelling out instructions to the clutch of citizens shuffled away from the building and unwittingly perhaps underlining the kind of occasionally halting and seemingly uninterested communication style the protesters believe is likely to disqualify Coffman from representing their interest in Washington after 2014.
Police Sergeant Scott Rutter said he was acting on request of the management of the privately owned building, a cement office-park structure also home to Remax real estate and financial advisory businesses.
“The management called and was concerned about the traffic throughout the building,” he said. “They don’t want so much traffic through the building, so [the protesters] were asked to leave, and they did exactly what they were asked to.”
Building manager Ron Ness declined to comment about the police presence.
Rutter was one of four officers at the scene who arrived in three patrol cars.
The protesters arrived at the office in two waves of about a dozen each. First came retired public employees associated with the lobby group ColoradoWINS concerned about the effects of House Republican-backed sequester cuts. After the seniors were shuffled off the property came members and supporters of the DREAM Army, undocumented youth seeking to win Coffman’s support for immigration reform that would allow them to work to become citizens via the U.S. military.
The protests were mild by any standard. The retirees entered the building bearing heart-shaped balloons. They talked about getting Coffman to pay attention to issues like social security, Medicare and Head Start. They said the sequester cuts were cutting into those programs.
“We’re just trying to get wages up for you, too,” one of the protestors joked with the police officers who were shooing them across a parking lot.
On the sidewalk, several members of the DREAM Army conducted media interviews before approaching the office.
Police kept a tight perimeter on the property. They asked protesters to move their cars out of the office lot, to not stand on the roadway median and to keep to the sidewalk. They issued the trespass citation to Samuel Kraus, a communications coordinator from the Colorado Democratic Party.
“I respectfully said to the officers, ‘I understand you’re doing your job, protecting private property, but can you at least stand in agreement with me that Representative Coffman ought to be more accessible to his constituents?’” Kraus said. “And the Police said ‘Yes.'”
Kraus never entered the building. He was standing on the edge of a driveway, roughly five feet from the property line, when the police gave him the ticket.
“I think it was because I had been there before,” he said later, adding that he had visited the office last week with constituents to deliver cantaloupes.
The cantaloupes referenced Coffman’s support for a House amendment introduced in June by Republican Iowa Rep. Steve King meant to effectively undo the executive order issued by President Obama to stop deportation of undocumented youth.
“For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’ve been hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” King said of the so-called DREAMers, or undocumented youth, many brought here by their parents as toddlers.
At Coffman’s office yesterday, many of the young protesters wanted to be military members and were hopeful that Coffman, a former Marine, could be swayed to champion their cause with the House Republican bloc deeply divided on immigration reform.
“I flew all the way here from Texas to speak to Coffman, because I look to him as a leader and respect his service in the military to this country that I call home,” said Ailina Cortes of San Antonio. Cortes is undocumented but hopes to become a linguistics officer in the Marine Corps.
“I’m a Republican,” Cortes said. “I was raised in Texas by conservative Catholic parents — I mean, how much more American can you get?”
Cortes was joined by several of the DREAMers at the protest in telling their stories, multiple times, in Spanish, in English, in Spanish again. They said calmly but firmly that they are not interested in partisan politics, that they are interested in leaders who will respect their desire to serve their country and to keep united their immigrant families.
Ultimately, with the four police officers standing on the stairs, Cortes and the other young people decided to enter the building to deliver a letter and a flag. They returned a half hour later, deflated.
Coffman wasn’t there, and the staffer they met, Drew Kerin, was uninterested in any messages coming from non-constituents.
“He was pretty high toned for someone representing a public office,” said Victor Galvan, a DREAMer from Colorado. He also said the office accepted their letter and he remains hopeful.
Coffman recently sponsored the Military Enlistment Act, which would allow some young people a path to citizenship that would include enrolling in the military.
“I trust him to lead on this,” Cortes said. “Obviously, we’re all watching him. I flew all the way here. His decisions are affecting many more people than he realizes.”