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Trump’s pledge for the wall

Shutdown puts pressure on immigrant communities

Protesters express disapproval of proposed wall.
Photo: Genessa Gutzait · The Sentry

After the longest government shutdown in American history, the effects have been felt across the whole country. The entire nation is still riddled with uncertainty of the future, a sentiment felt strongly by the immigrant community.

On Jan. 10, CNN reported that Miguel Ramirez Valiente was forced to take refuge in a Colorado Springs church, unable to appeal to immigration court for documentation. Lisa Guerra, Ramirez Valiente’s attorney, said of the situation, “We are basically in legal limbo, waiting for the government to reopen.” Despite fighting the case for eight years, the shutdown has put Ramirez Valiente and other families seeking sanctuary at risk.

One of CU Denver’s own professors in the Department of Political Science, James Walsh, has done significant work with the immigrant rights movement since 2005. According to Walsh, the immigrant community has felt the social effects on “everything” from fears of ICE and deportation to outright xenophobia in day-to-day life.

Additionally, Walsh said, “Every indicator points to a huge upswing” in these incidents of intolerance being experienced by immigrants on a daily basis. This is likely an area for concern for many Colorado residents, as approximately 10 percent of state residents were born outside the United States, according to a 2018 report from 9News.

Since the beginning of the shutdown, anxieties in immigrant communities have only amplified. Regarding the dispute over the wall, Walsh referred to it as a “symbolic debate” rather than an actual discourse over the construction itself, going so far as to say, “It’s about anything but a wall . . . It’s about us as a country.” He also considers the debate over immigration to contain the “ugliest” rhetoric in the political sphere, a debate that has drastically polarized voters since the 2016 election.

While concerns for the wall and the ensuing shutdown in recent weeks have incited and heightened concerns among immigrant communities, it is also something that has been present in the American ethos for a long time. Walsh asserts that while immigration rights activists are not surprised by the extreme shape that the debate has taken, the issue has now entered fully into the consciousness of the mainstream.

In other words, the debate, while not necessarily new to immigrant rights groups, has formally been moved to the political forefront. “It may be a good thing,” said Walsh, calling the present state of the issue “comprehensive” and “national.”

As the shutdown pressed on week after week, the public was uncertain which side would cave first. Immigration activists, like the National Immigrant Justice Center, believed that even a compromise can be disastrous, stating, “We need Democrats to remain strong and continue to stand against the wall.”

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