Donald Trump certainly didn't invent racism. But since his election this past November, verbally racist attacks hurled at Denver kids of color are on the rise, sources tell Westword.
Even before this week's release of executive orders calling for tougher immigration enforcement, local children of Latino or African descent riding on buses, gathering in public spaces or even playing against white opponents in school-sanctioned sporting events were hearing hateful comments about deportation and more, whether they're U.S. citizens or not. Such remarks, from young and old alike, may have been whispered in the past, but now they're increasingly being announced loud and proud, as if the speakers feel empowered by the assumption that the nation's president feels the same way they do.
Erin Parks, communication manger for Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, which describes itself as "a multi-issue organization led by people of color who work for educational equity, racial justice, immigrant rights and quality health care for all," has similar tales to tell about interactions taking place in area schools.
"Our parents have had discussions with us about bullying in schools, specifically in southwest Denver, where our members are," Parks says. "We've had incidents where their children were told they'd be going back to Mexico right after the election. 'You're not going to be here anymore, because you're going to be deported' — those kinds of things."
She adds that "there's been a lot of tension building with our high-school students. We have high-school students who are members, too, and for them, it's not just hate speech. They have civics classes, government classes, and some of the students were able to vote — and the ones who voted for Trump have no problem expressing their support and saying why what he is doing with his executive orders is right."
Such exchanges "create a lot of anxiety for students," Parks points out. "They're starting to feel discouraged and not motivated to go to school at all and perform, because they don't know what's going to happen. They don't know if their parents are going to be deported, and if they're undocumented, they don't know what their future is going to look like. That makes it very difficult to focus."
Trump's executive orders retained Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program put into effect during the administration of President Barack Obama that establishes a procedure under which undocumented individuals brought to America as kids can stay in this country. But uncertainties remain — which is why Padres y Jóvenes Unidos was among the local organizations to urge Denver Public Schools to publicly declare what Parks refers to as a "sanctuary-schools policy."
The initial DPS statements on this topic didn't satisfy the folks at Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, who issued a resolution calling for the district to "take a stronger stance in support and protection of undocumented students, teachers and staff," Parks says. "We asked them to refuse information-sharing with federal agents, i.e. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and to limit access, because many of our members are afraid that agents will be hanging around schools and getting information about them from programs that offer free and reduced lunch. We definitely don't want any kind of personal information being shared in terms of status or Social Security numbers or anything like that. And we called on them to set up policies for sanctuary sites and to have more resources for families, including counseling and rapid-response networks for children and family members who've been detained."
In recent days, DPS responded by issuing what it dubbed "The Safe and Welcoming School District Resolution." Read it below. Parks sees the document as a significant step in the right direction.
"The resolution passed by Denver Public Schools has very strong language that we pushed for," she notes. "We are pleased with the work that went into the resolution, and will now be working out the details to make sure that families are being protected in the ways that have been outlined. For example, under the 'Now, Therefore Be It Resolved' section, we have 'The Office of General Counsel will not grant access to our students unless the official presents a valid search warrant issued by a federal or state judge or magistrate,' in very narrow and rare 'exigent circumstances defined by federal law.' They have also acknowledged the need for additional training and supports."
Still, Parks stresses, "that doesn't mean our work is done." Padres y Jóvenes Unidos will be holding a community meeting tonight, Thursday, February 23, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at its offices, located at 3025 West 37th Avenue, to discuss a wide range of topics. And the organization is collaborating with other local groups, including the Colorado People's Alliance, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and the American Friends Service Committee in an informal network dubbed the Immigration Resistance Table.
Meanwhile, Padres y Jóvenes Unidos will continue to work directly with parents and children of color in Denver in an effort to keep their sense of hope alive in the face of a presidential administration with most of its four-year term in office still ahead, and the same amount of time after that still a possibility.
"We're not using fear in tackling the issue," Parks says. "It is unfortunate that the president feels the way he does about people who contribute so much to society and the country at large. But this isn't necessarily a brand-new fight, and it's not a brand-new sentiment. We have fought it before as an organization. It looks different when you have a president who uses alternative facts. But we'll just have to organize a lot harder and keep fighting for these important members of our community."
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Even as plenty of other people are fighting against them, with hateful words aimed at children among their weapons.
Here's the DPS resolution.