Colorado celebrates 10th Latino Advocacy Day at Capitol

DENVER — More than 100 students from across Colorado met on the Capitol steps Monday for the 10th anniversary of Latino Advocacy Day. Armed with talking points and handwritten letters, the freshly-trained young lobbyists met with their lawmakers, pushing them to fight for criminal, economic and environmental justice.

The crowd was optimistic and energetic, but a decade ago, things looked much grimmer.

“Ten years ago, Colorado was on the verge of passing the most heinous and inhumane immigration legislation in the country,” said Rep. Joe Salazar, who gave a keynote address Monday.  “When Latino Advocacy Day started, that’s what they had to deal with.”

In 2006, Colorado passed SB-90, known as the “show me your papers” law. It required police officers to offer up anyone suspected of being undocumented to the immigration authorities. The bill led the way for similar legislation in South Carolina and, perhaps most notably, Arizona.

But in 2013, Gov. John Hickenlooper repealed the law, making Colorado the first state to have ever rolled back anti-immigration legislation.

Salazar says the efforts of Latino Advocacy Day are largely to thank. Organizers “have worked so hard on legislation and on policy to ensure that people are treated fairly. They’ve had a great effect over the past 10 years,” he said.

Each year, advocacy organizations like Mi Familia Vota and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition unite to educate Colorado youth about the democratic system. For two days, between live music and slam poetry performances, attendees get caught up on pressing immigration issues and learn how to lobby for change.

The fight for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants was a key topic this year, but concerns also included health, education and the environment.

Participants organized themselves into groups and spoke up to lawmakers about the issues they care most about, said Ricardo Rocha, program director for the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization.

“We met with legislators about school funding, common core standards, and how expulsions and suspensions drastically, disproportionately affect the Latino community,” Rocha said. “We discussed fracking, the Clean Power Plan, water pollution, minimum wage, paid sick leave, and affordable housing,” he added.

The list goes on: Immigrants and Latinos in Colorado are continuing the fight against not only what they see as inhumane immigration policies, but injustices across the board.

In Rocha’s eyes, Latino Advocacy Day 2016 was a big success, but the fight is far from over.

So what’s the next big challenge?

“Getting a sense of the 2016 elections,” he said. “Getting a sense of what’s coming, and what we’ll have to defend again.”