DENVER -- One day after the Department of Homeland Security published a list of cities and jurisdictions, which it says declined ICE issued detainer requests, some of those cities took time to celebrate the contributions of immigrants.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock proclaimed March 21 as ‘Denver Immigration Day of Action.’
“This nation is based on the notion that people from somewhere else came to the new world to forge a new path,” he said. “In Denver, we stand for the same ideals.”
The mayor told a crowd at the City and County Building that immigrants are police officers, plumbers, teachers and neighborhood grocers.
“An immigrant is your mother, or your grandmother or your great grandmother,” the Mayor said, “but an immigrant is not a criminal. We must resist allowing the violent actions of so few to dictate how we define the thousands who have come to the U.S., to Colorado and to Denver, to build a life here.”
Hancock added, “I would not be the leader you elected me to be, if I allowed the innocent, honorable and contributing members of our community to be thrust into the shadows of our society because of stereotypes and labels. To do so would only allow for more violence and crime to hide in the shadows as well.”
Among the immigrants honored today was Denver Police Officer P.C. Chanthavong.
“I was born in Laos,” he said. “In 1975, we escaped to Thailand and lived in refugee camp.”
Chanthavong said opportunity came in 1978, when his family was granted a visa to come to the United States.
“My parents went to Emily Griffith Opportunity School to learn English,” he said, and once my father was able to find a job, we were off any assistance.”
The officer told Denver7, “As a proud immigrant and now US citizen, I am honored to be here, to give back to the community that has given me so much.”
Yonis Noor was another immigrant honored during the “Day of Action.”
Noor, a student at Thomas Jefferson High School, was a refugee from Somalia, who came to the U.S. when he was six years old.
He said he doesn’t remember being a refugee, but added that his mother told him there was a lot of unnecessary killing during the war.
Noor said he’s not focused on the past, he focused on the future and plans to become the first person in his family to go to college, where he wants to study engineering.
“This journey that started off from just like a small village and going to the United States, and me being the first my family to go to college, is an honor," he said.
The Mayor also honored Margorie Silva, an immigrant who moved to Denver and started Azucar bakery.
He also cited Slavica Park’s success story.
Park, a former refugee from Bosnia, moved to Colorado and worked for a time at Emily Griffith.
She is now the director of Economic and Workforce Development at Focus Points Family Resource Center.
When asked about the push in Washington to crack down on immigrants documentation and to ban refugees from certain Muslim countries, Noor said he disagrees with that.
He said he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in now, to go to college, if his family had been treated the way others are being treated now.
Denver Immigration attorney Hans Meyer called Homeland Security’s list "intellectually dishonest." He said the people who put it together misunderstand the Constitution.
“Local Sheriffs, local counties and local cities are standing up for Constitutional rights for everybody,” Meyer said. “That’s the job of anybody enforcing the law – to stand up for the Constitution and not try to run over it.”
Meyer said federal officials have to balance public safety concerns with Constitutional rights.
He believes the list released by Homeland Security is just the first salvo in a crackdown on cities perceived to be Sanctuary cities.
“We’re going to see the battle unfold,” he said, between local and state governments and the Trump administration.”
Meyer said that if the administration wasn’t trying to deport everyone, they’d have more resources to focus their efforts on those deemed to be serious criminals.
He said public safety is a balancing act that involves trust.
Mayor Hancock said the city will not shield violent criminal behavior, but he added that it’s much better to celebrate the achievements of Denver’s immigrant population than to fall prey to threats and intimidation.
“(Threats) won’t work,” he said.
The Mayor also quoted George Washington by saying, “America is open to receiving not only the opulent and respected stranger, but also the oppressed and persecuted stranger.”