AURORA | The son of Syrian immigrants, Obeid Kaifo worried as he watched the presidential campaign full of talk about registries and immigration bans for Muslims.
“Trump’s election legitimized his rhetoric,” Kaifo said.
Beyond the policy prescriptions a Trump administration could pursue, Kaifo said he worries about what the New York businessman’s election says to people who sympathize with tacit Islamophobia or even actively promote it.
“You can’t control the people,” the Overland High School graduate and Aurora resident said.
For other groups that felt targeted by the Trump campaign — including Latinos and other immigrants — the GOP nominee’s election night win sparked fresh worries about what the next four years could mean. Will Trump make good on a promise to deports millions? Will he bar Muslim immigrants? Will he force American Muslims to register?
Against that backdrop, Aurora leaders — from police to school officials to city council — are hoping to assuage those fears in a city that has long prided itself as one of the most diverse and tolerant in the nation — and a popular home for refugees and immigrants.
Last week, several people from Aurora’s immigrant community and others attended a meeting at the Aurora Welcome Center where police, prosecutors and others tried to calm some of the community’s fears.
Aurora police Lt. Darin Parker said police want everyone in Aurora — regardless of their immigration status — to feel comfortable talking to police and to feel safe in their communities.
“The message was simple. We wanted them to feel safe and to trust us,” he said.
Before the meeting Aurora police Chief Nick Metz had already joined several other chiefs — including in Denver and Los Angeles — and put out a statement saying flatly that local police are not immigration officers.
Parker said it’s important for community members to understand that Aurora police don’t enforce federal immigration laws. Aurora officers also don’t notify the federal government when they suspect someone is in the country illegally, he said.
When anyone is arrested and fingerprinted, their fingerprints are sent to the FBI, which shares them with federal immigration officials, Parker said, but police don’t make those reports.
Parker said APD’s outreach efforts in the Spanish-speaking community go back years and will continue into the future.
“We want all members of the community to feel safe reporting crime,” he said. “When they do that we are more effective.”
Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said he sent his deputy to the meeting because he wants to reach out to under-served portions of the population. Brauchler said people who are undocumented can receive a visa if they are a witness to a crime, but the fact that those visas exist isn’t common knowledge among the populations they are designed to help.
Diana Higuera, Executive Director for the Aurora Welcome Center, said some in the community are “freaking out” following the election.
“I think the most important part for people to know is things are not changing yet,” she said. “We don’t know what things are going to change.”
She said the Welcome Center plans to host more meetings going forward and said people who are concerned about deportation should contact an immigration lawyer.
The future in Aurora, and across the nation, is unclear
Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said it’s tough to say what the future will hold, but he is confident in the systems Aurora has in place to deal with whatever comes.
“No matter what, entities like the Welcome Center, and city efforts like the Office of International and Immigrant Affairs have a role to play in the future,” he said. “Aurora is the safest, most diverse big city in Colorado. People will continue to want those lifestyle elements, and so they will continue to come to Aurora.”
While there have been no reports of organized student protests or walkouts in Aurora Public Schools or the Cherry Creek School District, discussions regarding the implications of the election have inevitably seeped into local classrooms.
Ryan Glasspoole, a leadership teacher at Aurora West College Preparatory Academy, said the days immediately following Election Day were difficult.
“I had to console a number of students whose parents had told them that they were going to be leaving the country soon before they get kicked out,” Glasspoole wrote in an email. “I have four white students out of 170. Everybody is upset.”
Glasspoole said several of his students have already penned letters to Hogan, urging him to release a statement in support of the city’s burgeoning foreign-born population. About 20 percent of Aurorans were born outside of the United States, according to the city’s 2016 demographics report.
However, after reviewing the limitations of the presidency, the balance of power, and the existing deportation policies enacted by the Obama Administration, Glasspoole said the mood in his classroom has already cooled.
“I think that most students are returning to an uneasy status quo,” he wrote. “They’re used to living in the shadows.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported more than 2.5 million people between 2009 and 2015, according to statistics compiled by ICE. That dwarfs the roughly 2 million people the organization removed under the entire George W. Bush Administration. More than half of the 235,413 ICE removals in 2015 were Mexican citizens, according to the organization.
Spokespeople for both APS and CCSD said the two districts will continue to offer existing resources to students, and will address new policies when, and if, they are enacted.
Aurora college takes on student angst
At the Community College of Aurora, administrators have held a pair of community conversations for students and staff to celebrate, question and discuss the election results, according to Bobby Pace, political science professor and chair of the college’s social sciences department.
Pace said the first community conversation, held on Nov. 10 and attended by about 75 students, centered on questions about the electoral process and the function of the Electoral College. The second discussion, attended by a similar number of students and held one week later, involved additional probing on the president-elect’s proposed policies.
Pace said while responses from Muslim students were “relatively muted,” several students of Hispanic descent expressed concerns about the residency status of their parents and how that could affect their ability to attend school under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which was implemented by the Obama Administration four years ago. That program gives preferential treatment to children who were brought into the country illegally but have lived here most of their lives, attending school and working. Most of those children know only the United States as home, even though they’re not citizens.
Although calculating exact figures can be slippery, Pace estimates the number of DACA-eligible students at CCA is higher than at other nearby institutions.
More than 300 students were enrolled in the Community College of Aurora’s ESL program in the fall of 2014, a cohort that represented 65 different countries, according to the college’s website. The college annually enrolls about 11,000 students.
Pace added that reaction to the election among CCA’s African-American students has been mostly critical.
“Our African-American students, in a reflection of what they’ve told me, felt that race had a lot to do with the outcome of this election,” he said. “After the euphoria of having an African-American president with Barack Obama, they really felt that there had been a setback with the election of Donald Trump.”
On the contrary, Pace said African students at CCA — largely from Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo — praised recent Republican victories.
“Republicans have traditionally been better supporters for African regimes, so many of our students from African nations had, throughout the course of the year, been pretty vocal in their support for Trump,” he said. “We have a tendency to group all international students into one category and assume, for one reason or another, they might be Democratic, but that’s just not accurate.”
The local community college may host another community discussion following the presidential inauguration in January, according to Pace. Until then, he said CCA will continue to monitor executive branch policies and offer traditional resources to students.
“Only about 30 percent of what’s promised on the campaign trail gets implemented when one gets put into office,” Pace said. “The question is: How do we guide that 30 percent?”
Just what a Trump administration will mean for many of those populations is somewhat murky. Trump has attempted to soften his tone on some issues, no longer pledging to force Mexico to pay for a massive wall along the border and at times walking back his calls for a ban on Muslim immigrants.
In a television interview over the weekend Republican National Committee Chairman and Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said he wouldn’t “rule out” a Muslim registry. But in the same interview, Priebus said “we’re not going to have a registry based on a religion.”
Trump also tapped former Gen. Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor, a man who has said “fear of Muslims is rational.”
Others who have taken a hardline against undocumented immigrants — including Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — have been floated for cabinet positions in a Trump administration.
Jennifer Piper, interfaith organizer for the American Friends Service Committee, said groups like hers that work closely with undocumented immigrants are especially worried about those cabinet choices.
“Initially we were a little more hopeful the rhetoric was just that, but when you look at the people he is surrounding himself with, who will influence him, it doesn’t alleviate any concerns, that’s for sure,” she said.
Kaifo said he worries about backlash toward American Muslims.
“Right now, we’re being very, very cautious,” he said.
He said he understands why people like President Barack Obama and failed presidential contender Hillary Clinton have said to give Trump a chance, but he and his friends are disheartened because they feel like government and elected officials aren’t speaking out against murmurs of Muslim registries and appointments of dubious White House officials.
“We’ve all been getting some really negative stuff,” he said.
While the election and how people are reacting is beyond dispiriting, Kaifo said he doesn’t plan to go anywhere.
“This is my home,” Kaifo said.
Staff writers Brandon Johansson, Rachel Sapin, Dave Perry and Quincy Snowdon contributed to this story.