In our ongoing commitment to creating opportunities for local Latinas and Latinos to learn and lead, Voces Unidas spent the week of July 3-8 in Mexico City with a dozen dynamic Colorado community leaders learning about the history and complexities of immigration policies between the United States and Mexico during our first-ever Civic Leader Education and Advocacy Program (CLEAP).
The CLEAP program provided opportunities for participants from around the state to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between the United States and Mexico, immerse in the host country's current cultural, civic and political context, and have a chance to practice leadership and advocacy skills that can’t be replicated in a classroom.
With a full agenda of meetings with Mexican policymakers and government officials, the CLEAP program gave participating community leaders the unique opportunity to advocate and help inform policies. Mexican Americans are the largest group of Latinos in Colorado and the U.S., and as individuals with ties to both countries, those leaders possess a deep understanding of the challenges faced by communities on both sides of the border. Their dual perspectives are essential in the policy debates trying to find solutions that prioritize human rights, promote legal pathways for migration, and address the root causes of forced displacement.
“It’s important to bring leaders who understand and have lived experiences with immigration policy on both sides of the border,” Voces Unidas President and CEO Alex Sánchez said. “Just as we educate U.S. policymakers at the state and federal level of the needs of the Latino community, it’s critical to bring our binational perspectives to share with policymakers across the border.”
Voces Unidas chose Mexico as the host country given the long history of economic, political, and cultural connections with the United States. In addition, Mexico is both an exporter of Mexican migrants and a transit country for migrants making their way north from other Central and South American nations.
CLEAP participants spent their first full day in Mexico City learning about the intersectionality and interconnectedness of migration policies and politics in both the U.S. and Mexico while also examining how Euro-centric models have influenced the U.S. immigration framework and migration policies in the region. Another area of policy that was discussed is the recent militarization of Mexico's southern and northern borders and the intended and unintended human rights consequences that occur when transit countries like Mexico use the military for domestic immigration enforcement. Lastly, the group discussed the implications of forced displacement due to climate change, especially because researchers estimate that 17 million Latin Americans are expected to be displaced by climate change by 2050.
The group was able to visit with federal policymakers and government officials, including Federal Diputado Mario Alberto Torres of Veracruz, Secretary of the Commission on Southern Border Issues and the Commission on Migration Issues; Federal Diputada Olga Leticia Chávez Rojas of Nuevo León, Secretary of the Commission on Migration Issues; Federal Senator Jorge Carlos Ramírez Marín of Yucatán, President of the Commission on Science and Technology; and Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior executive director Julieta Muñoz.
“The experience was surreal,” said Junior Ortega, a CLEAP participant from Rifle. “It’s still hard to believe I was there in Mexico City, meeting lawmakers and having these important discussions about issues that have such a meaningful impact on the Latino community both in Mexico and here at home.”
In addition to the program facilitators from Voces Unidas, State Rep. Elizabeth Velasco of Glenwood Springs joined the group as the CLEAP program’s keynote speaker. Velasco, the first immigrant leader to be elected to the Colorado legislature from the Western Slope, was born in Mexico.
Notably, seven of the 12 program participants and two staff members were DACA leaders who came to the U.S. as children and remain without permanent immigration status, but received Advance Parole to travel to Mexico and return to the United States through the support of Voces Unidas. Like Voces Unidas, these Dreamers are working to improve their communities in the U.S., and Advance Parole allows DACA leaders to temporarily travel abroad for educational and employment purposes. This was the first time ever leaving the country for these Dreamers, who collectively have ties to Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia.
Voces Unidas is committed to creating opportunities for local Latinas and Latinos to lead and the CLEAP program is an example of our work in action. Through binational, community-led efforts, Voces Unidas believes we can create more humane and just immigration policies that uphold the shared values of compassion and dignity for all individuals seeking a better life.