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Refugee Advocacy Days 2021

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Advocating for refugees: The IRC in Denver meets with state legislators

During February and March, IRC in Denver team members, including staff, volunteers and interns, participated in the Refugee Advocacy Coalition of Colorado’s 2021 virtual Refugee Advocacy Days.

The days were an opportunity for refugees and staff from refugee-serving organizations to have their voices heard by state legislators and for legislators to learn more about refugees in their community.   

“The IRC in Denver is committed to advocating for and with our refugee and immigrant neighbors. Newcomers are an important part of who we are as a state and our shared success,” said Jennifer Wilson, executive director at the IRC in Denver. “We want our legislators to hear directly from their refugee and immigrant constituents and organizations, like the IRC, that work to uplift their concerns, needs, and successes.”

IRC in Denver staff meeting virtually with Senator Julie Gonzales Photo: IRC in Denver

 

During the virtual meetings, participants shared information about the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and how refugees come to the U.S., refugees in Colorado and the diverse services providers who work to welcome and support them, and the incredible community and economic contributions newcomers make to our state.  

 

The IRC in Denver team met with

  • Senator Julie Gonzales
  • Rep. Emily Sirota 
  • Senator Jessie Danielson 
  • Rep. Colin Larson 
  • Rep. Alec Garnett 
  • Rep. David Ortiz 

We asked the IRC in Denver team to share with us what this experience was like for them. Here are some highlights.  

“I learned that there are many state legislators who do not think refugee or asylum-related issues should be viewed in partisan terms. I think the best part about meeting with Senator Julie Gonzales was that despite her busy schedule, she was very willing to listen about the IRC's work and the needs of our clients. The fact that so much of immigration policy is determined at the federal level didn't seem to deter her from being open to ways to make Colorado a more welcoming and supportive place for refugees and asylum seekers.” -Gabriel Martinez, youth liaison

“I met with Representative Colin Larsen, and, as one of his constituents, I think it was good for us to meet each other. I learned that he values the contributions of refugees, thinks refugee policy should be a non-partisan issue.” One of the best parts was the questions he had for me, such as what industries and at what locations do refugees find employment? I was happy to let him know a little about my work assisting our clients in finding employment. In this way, I think we learned quite a bit from one another.” – David Koppers, employment specialist.  

“I felt it important to participate in refugee advocacy days as a way to extend my impact beyond the borders of the direct service that I provide. To be sure, I'm proud of the direct work that I do with the IRC, but I recognize that many of the issues that we (and our clients, more importantly) face are the result of systemic issues that require broader action on the part of state—and to a greater extent—federal legislators, and I was hoping to shed light and highlight those issues in any way that I could. For me, it was also a way to see the commitment to the cause of human rights shared by my elected representative; indeed, it was a powerful experience." – Sid Bittman, COVID Rapid Response Specialist