Carbondale's community connector

Trustees look to assuage Hispanics’ concerns

Locations: News Published

After Trump’s election

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson, whose former status as acting mayor was formalized by voters in the recent election, suggested on Tuesday that the town should “make a statement about the growing fear in the Latino community” following the election of President-elect Donald Trump.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric for the past year and a half has been filled with statements about the undesirability of Hispanic immigrants and others, and with promises to deport Hispanics by the millions and build a wall along the border with Mexico to keep them out of the country.

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None of that rhetoric has yet turned into a reality, though news stories have mentioned that Trump’s transition team is actively working on a deportation scheme.

But locally, news accounts have catalogued the rising anxieties of the Roaring Fork Valley’s Hispanic population, including fears among public-school students that they will not be allowed to stay in the U.S.

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Richardson, at a special meeting of the town’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday, brought up “a few things” that he felt should be contained in a statement meant to reassure local Hispanics.

First, he said, there is no indication that changes to the nation’s immigration laws or the initiation of deportation campaigns are likely to materialize “anytime in the near future.”

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Plus, he noted, town and county officials are not “authorized to act as immigration officers,” meaning that local police and county sheriff’s deputies are not expected to worry about an individual’s immigration status “unless there is a federal warrant” naming that individual as a criminal of some sort.

“Hopefully, this information will allay some fears,” Richardson continued, adding that he hoped local Hispanics will not be so worried about their status that they fail to do such things as report automobile accidents to the police or take other actions that call for normal interaction with government.

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Agreeing with the mayor, Trustee Marty Silverstein said, “We need to do some outreach, get it out in Spanish, because that’s the community we’re addressing.”

Also agreeing with Richardson’s concept was Trustee Ben Bohmfalk, a teacher in the local schools, who noted that the Roaring Fork School District has been working along similar lines.

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“Rob Stein (superintendent of the district) has really stepped up to the plate on this,” Bohmfalk commented, explaining that the district has been convening meetings with students and parents, and making sure that students understand that the schools are not their enemies.

“The basic message is, our community, our schools, are still safe places” for Hispanics and other immigrants, said Bohmfalk.

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At Roaring Fork High School, principal Drew Adams on Wednesday confirmed that students in that school have been concerned, even anxious, as a result of the election.

But, he said, there have been no signs of rebellion, no protest demonstrations or other indications that the student body is in a panic.

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He compared it to an earlier time, going back to the 1990s, when Colorado was roiled by what seemed to be a rising anti-immigrant movement, represented most publicly by former GOP Congressman Tom Tancredo, who was in favor of special laws requiring Hispanic youths to show identification proving their immigration status before being registered in local schools.

“I thought that was morally wrong,” Adams recalled, “and a violation of the students’ rights to a free education.”

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But, he amplified, students and their families were frightened by the mood back then, and that state of anxiety was similar to what many local Hispanics are feeling right now, although he said Colorado has moved away from the anti-immigrant rhetoric of that era and currently is “much more accepting” of Hispanic and other immigrants.

Trustee Katrina Byars took Richardson’s idea a bit further, proposing that the town establish a Spanish-speaking advisory commission as liaison between the BOT and the Hispanic community, an idea that prompted Trustee Heather Henry to offer to work with Byars to gauge interest in the concept.

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Richardson directed Town Manager Jay Harrington to get to work on a statement of assurance to local Hispanics, and Harrington confirmed that he would see to it.

Other action

In other action, the trustees:

• Approved contributions to more than 40 area nonprofit organizations, who had filed requests for funding from the town’s coffers. The trustees had set a budget of $62,000 for what are known as “community requests,” and working with the list of organizations had come up with a total amount of contributions of $59,154, with the balance to be set aside against the possibility of a request for funds from some organization during the coming year. The community requests are part of the trustees’ annual budget deliberations, which in recent years have been pegged to an amount equal to one percent of the town’s annual general fund budget.

• Agreed to permit a Thompson Divide Coalition fund-raiser on Dec. 2, which will involve closing off a stretch of sidewalk along Main Street, in front of the Bonfire coffee shop and the Crystal Theater, to permit attendees to buy beer at Bonfire and take it with them into the theater to watch movies.

• Directed the mayor to sign a contract agreement for a $25,000 mini-grant from the Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District fund, to be used to repair and renovate windows and flooring at the Thompson House museum off Highway 133.

Published in The Sopris Sun on November 17, 2016.