Giving Thought: Allaying fears in the immigrant community
October 23, 2017
When Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016, immigrant families feared a sudden, massive immigration crackdown. Recognizing this anxiety among local students and families, officials with the Roaring Fork School District established the Immigrant Support Working Group.
Really more of a discussion venue than an organization, the Working Group has held seven informal meetings since the election, where organizational leaders who serve people with concerns about immigration laws, changing federal policies and their local implications can share their stories, ask questions and discuss community-wide resources. Superintendent Rob Stein and Senior Project Manager Angie Davlyn spoke to us about the Working Group and what it's accomplished.
Aspen Community Foundation: How was the Working Group formed, and how has it evolved?
Rob Stein: Right after the election, there was a lot of surprise about the result, and we noted immediately some heightened concern in the immigrant community. We just thought, "Let's convene a group and start to figure this out together."
By this, I mean feelings of uncertainty and unsafety among our immigrant families. There was a lot of fear and also confusion about the democratic process.
Angie Davlyn: One thing that's been consistent from the start has been our commitment to listening first. We don't have all the answers, but by sharing real stories about what we see and hear from the people we serve, we can learn how to ensure that people get the resources and information they need. There are other groups in the valley who work directly with those who are most impacted; this group brings together organizational leaders from different fields — education, health, religion — to share the realities of those they serve.
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ACF: This seems like an unusual effort for a school district to make. Explain the connection to your educational mission.
RS: These are our kids, these are the majority of the families we serve. It's not outside our mission to tend to their safety. Another reason is that our schools are trusted places. It seemed like a good beginning to start where people feel comfortable and safe, and I want to continue that feeling of safety in our schools.
AD: Our duty is to ensure that our schools are not only physically safe places, but emotionally and intellectually safe places. So, it's bigger than just our students' immigration status; it means kids from all political viewpoints have the ability to express their views.
ACF: How often do the meetings occur and how many people attend?
AD: We started meeting monthly in the beginning and later we moved to every other month. Now we're taking a pause and asking, "How do we want to continue?"
We see anywhere between 10 and 35 people who attend regularly. Most are organizational representatives — Valley Settlement Project, Mountain Family Health Centers, Catholic Charities, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and many others. We also have a mailing list of about 70 people who represent probably 45 local organizations. A lot of people can't make the meetings but follow our progress and read our minutes. So we're an information source.
RS: We also have a shared Google drive file with resources and material we've made available, whether it's an immigration-oriented lesson plan for a teacher, or a sample board resolution. For example, the Roaring Fork School District board passed a safe haven resolution shortly after the election, mostly reinforcing policies that already exist — we want our schools to be safe places, our students have a right to privacy and we cannot share student data with anyone including law enforcement, etc.
ACF: Do you have any results or success stories to report?
RS: Some of the biggest successes are in local law enforcement. These aren't directly due to the efforts of this group, but maybe they're connected.
Last November a new district attorney was elected, Jeff Cheney. Shortly thereafter he met with the superintendents of the valley's schools. He emphatically explained that his role is not to prosecute federal crimes but to keep our communities safe. He made it clear that if people won't cooperate with the District Attorney's office because they fear deportation, then it'll be harder for him to enforce local laws.
In a similar vein, Angie and I were meeting with some Latina moms last spring, and we asked them what different things they'd like to see in our schools. One answered, "More police." I said, "Really?" And she said, "Oh, yes, they make us feel safe." I think that's a real credit to our local police forces that they have created that sense of trust. Other parents echoed the sentiment.
ACF: How long will the meetings continue? Is there a goal or endpoint?
AD: In the next few weeks we'll be figuring out what our next evolution will be.
RS: As long as people keep showing up, we'll keep doing this. If we're meeting a need, then we'll continue.
Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.
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