Deedee de Haro-Brown is angry. She’s been that way for a while.
She’s upset about immigration rhetoric, and, as an American of Mexican heritage, she takes some of the vitriol about people who immigrate to the United States personally.
“Just the whole thing of people looking at immigrants like they’re criminals,” de Haro-Brown said about why she is angry. “What I’ve experienced is, people are hard-working and want to make a better life for their families.”
While the anti-immigration sentiment is not new, the election of Donald Trump and his efforts to embolden immigration officials have intensified a fear in the immigrant community, de Haro-Brown said. It stems from people treating immigrants as if they are criminals, something that is far from the experience de Haro-Brown said she has had with people in the immigrant community.
To combat those sentiments and give immigrants to Durango a sense of community, de Haro-Brown and about a dozen other Durango residents have been protesting Immigration and Customs Enforcement in front of the La Plata County Courthouse each day for the past couple of months. The group plans to hold a rally at the courthouse Wednesday for translator day, when many non-English speakers appear for misdemeanors or other crimes.
De Haro-Brown worked with the immigrant community for most of her adult life. She taught English as a second language in Texas before moving to Durango in 2003, so when she and her husband moved here, it seemed logical to continue to work with immigrants.
When the opportunity arose to tutor immigrant students, de Haro-Brown jumped on it. She worked with Even Start Program at Park Elementary School to teach English to families of immigrant children. Through this work, de Haro-Brown was able to build relationships with people in the immigrant community in Durango.
“Having relationships with people in the immigrant community is fun and interesting,” she said. “I appreciate the culture and being able to know people who were immersed in that culture.”
About 11 percent of the Durango community identifies as Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Within that community are smaller pockets, de Haro-Brown said, each of whom react to hostile rhetoric and situations differently. For example, the Latino community may have a more extreme reaction to a proposal of a border wall on the United States and Mexico border than immigrants from other regions of the world.
De Haro-Brown herself was immersed in immigrant culture as a child. Her paternal family came to the U.S. from Mexico, and her grandmother would visit the country each year.
“When she would come back, she would be really sad,” de Haro-Brown said. “My dad would say ‘we got to go cheer up your grandmother,’ and she just always talked about Mexico like it was so special to her. I got that from her, maybe.”
But then came 1999 and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a precursor to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, with a plan to open an enforcement office in Durango. That’s when de Haro-Brown and a group of people formed Compañeros, an advocacy group that promotes acceptance of different cultures, languages and ethnicities.
Compañeros attempted to get the federal government to bring an INS immigration benefits office to Southwest Colorado, de Haro-Brown said. But that never happened. A lot of fear spread through the immigrant community when INS came to Durango, she said. Compañeros worked to temper that fear.
These people have rights, even if they are here illegally, and Compañeros is working to make sure people have the information about their rights that they need to protect themselves from potential deportation or harassment, deHaro-Brown said.
That fear has not diffused.
“When somebody gets deported, its really disheartening to the whole community,” she said.
De Haro-Brown fights for the immigrant community because “all of us are in this together, and we’re all human beings and we all deserve respect.”
Immigrants often come to the United States to better themselves and to create a better life for their family, not because they don’t like their home country, de Haro-Brown said.
While the work she does for the immigrant community is not easy, it is something she “really enjoys.” She is now working with adult immigrants who are eligible for a citizenship test to help them prepare for the exam.
“It’s kind of difficult to keep those relationships going,” de Haro-Brown said. “I think if you can do real practical things with people, it helps to keep those relationships going.”