They come from war-torn countries. They are young adults, grandparents, pregnant women, children, and babies. They flee poverty, violence, and even death threats. Fueled by hope, they walk thousands of miles through jungles, over mountains and deserts, passing days without food or shelter, suffering unspeakable personal violence, pursued by cartel gangs, thieves, and extortionists.
They have one goal. To arrive in the United States. Yet often, they are met with angry and forceful rejection and get caught in a political firestorm.
Eduardo, a recent Venezuelan migrant, was asked whether he knew before he came that crossing the border would be treacherous and that many Americans would go to great lengths to keep him out. With a sad smile, he explained that however bad it could be here, it was worse where he came from.
Thousands of these despairing migrants find their way to Colorado. Fortunately, the spirit of inclusivity flourishes in our beautiful state, known for its commitment to supporting immigrants, migrants, and refugees. The Colorado welcome is evident in the wide range of resources offered to support in education, legal assistance, healthcare, and more.
Understanding Root Causes of Immigration
Immigration is often the result of a combination of push and pull factors. The push factors that compel people to leave include political instability, economic hardship, and a scarcity of available jobs. On the other hand, pull factors that attract people are the appealing aspects of the US, such as better living conditions, economic stability, better employment prospects, and political freedom.
In many instances, individuals are fleeing life-threatening conditions and extreme poverty. Climate change is an emerging factor, too, with erratic weather patterns and natural disasters forcing people to leave their homes.
Challenges Faced by Immigrant Families
Immigrants face many obstacles to integrating into a new country. Foremost among these is the language barrier. Employment and education seem almost impossible without English. Cultural differences add another layer of difficulty, as immigrants try to understand new social norms and expectations that may be vastly different from those they’re used to.
Many immigrants also face legal and bureaucratic hurdles, such as applying for work permits, finding health care, and steering clear of immigration enforcement agencies. Even those who arrive with legal status may find these processes overwhelming due to language barriers and unfamiliarity with the system. What’s more, immigrants often face strong discrimination and harassment.
The stress of these experiences on already traumatized people can lead to mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, which are often underdiagnosed and untreated in this population. Despite these challenges, immigrant families show remarkable resilience and contribute significantly to their new state.
Unique Aspects of Immigration in Colorado
Colorado, known for its diverse economy and booming technology, aerospace, agriculture, and tourism industries, often attracts migrants in search of work and economic stability.
However, Colorado’s high cost of living is a significant hurdle for newly arrived migrant families. Likewise, the state’s diverse geography, from bustling urban centers to isolated rural communities, may affect immigrants’ access to resources and community support.
While Colorado has a robust network of immigrant support organizations and shelters, navigating these resources can be tricky, especially with limited English proficiency. The state also has its own set of immigration laws and policies that can vary from federal regulations, making the legal navigation process even harder.
Conversely, Colorado’s thriving communities from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe, can offer a welcoming environment for newcomers. This diversity is reflected in numerous cultural events, immigrant-friendly government policies, and community support systems, which can help immigrants gain a sense of belonging and ease their transition in an unfamiliar world.
Cultivating Inclusion and Celebrating Cultural Diversity
Making everyone feel welcome is not just about hosting events and sharing resources, it is a daily practice. It starts with an individual effort to understand, appreciate, and respect others, and the cultural differences that exist among us.
One effective way of promoting this understanding is through education. Schools, workplaces, and local organizations can play a pivotal role in this by incorporating cultural diversity into their curriculums and programs.
Celebrating diverse festivals, holidays, and traditions can also help to promote understanding and appreciation of different cultures. Immigrants love to share their heritage and to feel recognized and valued.
Supportive Services for Immigrants in Colorado
A variety of supportive services can assist immigrant families in becoming acclimated. English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, academic support for children, adult education, and vocational training make an impact.
For immigrant families in Colorado, a wealth of resources is available to provide support:
- Colorado Refugee Services Program (CRSP): Operated by Colorado’s Department of Human Services, CRSP offers assistance with employment, English language training, and social adjustment.
- Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC): CIRC is a statewide, membership-based coalition of organizations aimed at improving the lives of immigrants.
- Centro San Juan Diego: Centro San Juan Diego offers adult education programs, health initiatives, and family services to the Hispanic community in Denver.
- Asian Pacific Development Center: The Center focuses on the development and support of the Asian American Pacific Islander community.
- The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN): RMIAN provides free legal services to immigrant children and to adults in immigration detention.
- Denver Inner City Parish The DICP loves and supports individuals providing food, services, and community, enabling them to break the cycle of poverty.
- Emily Griffith Technical College Starting in 1916, EGTC is the oldest and largest provider of low-cost English language acquisition classes in the state. For those with Refugee status, classes are free.
- Metro Caring Metro Caring works to meet people’s immediate need for nutritious food while building a movement to address the root causes of hunger.
By sharing these resources within our personal networks and extending a hand of friendship, we can help make Colorado a welcoming home for all.
Legal Assistance and Advocacy
Navigating immigration laws is overwhelming for new arrivals. Assistance with visa and residency applications, deportation defense, and family reunification processes can provide invaluable support.
But legal support for migrants goes beyond that. It’s about protecting immigrants against exploitation and fraud which happen all too often. We must establish due process, fair treatment, and advocate for their rights.
- The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN): A non-profit organization dedicated to justice for immigrants, RMIAN provides free legal services to those in immigration detention.
- Colorado Legal Services: This non-profit organization is committed to delivering legal services to vulnerable groups free of charge, or at a low cost.
- Meyer Law Office: Specializing in immigration law and family law, the Meyer Law Office provides legal assistance with visa and residency applications, deportation defense, and family reunification processes.
Volunteers Make a Difference
Volunteering is a powerful way to support immigrant families in Colorado, and there are endless ways to lend your skills, time, and energy. Here are a few areas where you can lend a hand:
- Language Learning: If you’re an English instructor or native English speaker, you could volunteer to teach, assist in classes, or even provide tutoring. Also, translators and interpreters are always in demand.
- Community Navigator: Some non-profit organizations arrange for migrant families to be “adopted” by individual Coloradans or teams of volunteers. These community navigators connect the families with whatever they need: food banks, schools, health clinics, legal resources, etc. Often, meaningful long-term friendships develop as a result. And it begins with that first helping hand.
- Professional Services: If you are a legal, healthcare, or financial professional, offering your services pro bono is always welcome. Legal professionals can aid with the daunting immigration labyrinth, healthcare professionals can provide essential care, and financial advisors can help newcomers become familiar with new financial systems.
- Faith Communities: Colorado has a robust network of faith communities dedicated to helping weary migrants on their way to security and a new start. These folks often work together in a crisis. In 2023 teams of volunteers from different faiths organized food drives, converted church spaces to temporary shelter, provided transportation, donated bus tickets to other cities to reunite with relatives, offered clean and safe beds and showers, and provided piles of donated clothing to a flood of migrants from Venezuela. These tireless volunteers often act as the first point of contact for exhausted travelers.
Last December, Sinthia arrived at Denver’s bus station after walking thousands of miles from her troubled country to the US. She and her traveling companions had nothing but dirty tattered clothing on their backs and nowhere to go. Disoriented, freezing, and famished, they were approached by a woman who wanted to help them. She identified herself and her church and took the desperate Venezuelans to get a warm meal, clean clothing, winter coats, hats and gloves, and secure shelter. Although she doesn’t remember the woman’s name or church, Sinthia is certain she was an angel. She says she will never forget the loving welcome on that first day in the place they now call home.
Personal experiences like these have an immeasurable impact in the lives of immigrant families. Not only are we supporting people in desperate need of help, but we enrich our own lives and communities in the process.
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2
Embracing Diversity: Colorado’s Call to Action
The state of Colorado is exemplary in its approach to immigrants. We strive to welcome road-weary individuals and families and see them through a successful integration into society.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free….”
These famous words, inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, have a twenty-first century relevance in Colorado. We understand that newly arriving migrants, immigrants, and refugees make our state a better place for all of us. Lending a hand, we help to build a robust, multicultural community. Let’s make sure that Colorado is a welcoming home for all.