‘Don’t leave us in this fight’: Rallying in Denver, immigrants decry family separation

Condemning the federal government's practice of separating immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, about 200 attended a rally east of City Park on Thursday evening in Denver. Similar rallies were held on Thursday in Pueblo and Aurora.
Activists rallied in Denver last year to condemning the federal government's practice of separating immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo by Alex Burness)

What is happening now at the U.S.-Mexico border, where immigrant parents and children are being forcibly separated under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy is “not some foreign reality,” said Celeste Martinez.

“This is something that is happening now and that our country is deeply responsible for,” Martinez, an organizer with Together Colorado, told a crowd of about 200 during a rally outside of Park Hill United Methodist Church on Thursday evening.

“The ‘zero-tolerance’ policy will continue to militarize our border,” she added, as members of the crowd held signs and banners decrying the federal government’s enforcement tactics at the border.

Together Colorado, along with other organizations including American Friends Service Committee and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, led Thursday’s event— a short march just east of City Park from one church to another, where the group rallied for an hour.

Similar events took place in Pueblo and Aurora.

During the first half of the rally, the crowd heard firsthand testimonials from immigrants and organizers. The second half was a series of brief speeches from Democratic politicians currently running for office.

Araceli Velasquez, who’s been living in sanctuary at Park Hill United Methodist and the adjacent Temple Micah for almost a year, told the crowd that she came to the U.S. in 2010 from El Salvador, “fleeing for my life.”

Many do not realize, she said, the absolute desperation that motivates people to try to cross the border without documentation. “If people are coming to the border with their small children, it’s because their lives are at stake,” she said.

“My asylum was denied,” Velasquez added. “And that’s the reason I had to claim sanctuary as my last option. …  It’s been a very long 10 months, but I will keep fighting. What is most important is that I keep fighting for my family. That’s why I’m fighting so hard — to stay in this country with my family.”

Lupe Lopez, another immigrant, also spoke of the desperation she faced before fleeing her home and parents, alone, in Guatemala.

“For many of us, this decision happens one night to the next morning,” Lopez said. “I had to leave because my boss was sexually assaulting me.”

Lopez told a story of a time she was driving on I-70 in 2012, when a Colorado State Patrol officer pulled her over. Neither she nor her husband had drivers licenses, and both wound up detained for four days, unable to contact their children.

When they finally were released and united with their kids, Lopez said, the kids asked, “What happened? We thought you both were dead.”

“Don’t give up,” she implored the largely white crowd. “Don’t leave us in this fight.”

Lopez’s speech was followed by a procession of political appearances, starting with a staffer from Democratic Congresswoman Diana DeGette’s office. DeGette was in Washington, D.C., during the rally, attending the annual Congressional Baseball Game, but, via a letter her surrogate read, she assured the crowd she was with them “in spirit.”

DeGette’s opponent in the primary for Colorado’s 1st District, Saira Rao, followed.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she said, should be defunded, and is “terrorizing families of color.”

Rao added that the separation of parents and children at the border amounts to nothing short of fascism. She was followed by Mike Johnston, a Democrat running for governor, and Democrat Levi Tillemann, who’s running for Congress in Colorado’s 6th District.

Before the group marched back to Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church, organizers implored those present to pressure legislators not to increase funding for Homeland Security, and to oppose any separation of families.

On Thursday evening, as the rallygoers gathered in Colorado, Republicans in Congress released what they called a compromise bill on immigration that includes $25 billion for Trump’s proposed wall at the border. The bill, some leading Republicans have claimed, would end the current separation of families, which has been going on since early last month.

As currently authored, the bill would not outlaw the separation of families, though it would encourage detention of parents and children in the same location. One key thing it would allow for, however, is the indefinite detention of those families.

Photo by Alex Burness