This is the second of two stories about what Colorado's Congressional delegation has been hearing from constituents during the summer recess. Read the first one here.
A broad coalition of immigrant rights activists has seized the past five weeks to reach out to Colorado's representatives. Activists have flooded town halls, written countless letters, and lobbied hard to gain GOP support for an immigration overhaul.
"Over the last month, here in Colorado, we have seen just a tsunami of activity," said Brendan Green, policy director for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. "Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of actions are literally happening every week."
Green says this summer’s fight has been one sided.
"The most striking thing that we’ve seen is the lack of opposition," he said. "There’s no organized movement as we’ve seen in the past."
Green points to the unusual alliances that are advocating for change this year, like conservative farmers, deep-pocketed GOP donors, and faith leaders.
At a recent town hall in Colorado Springs, pastor Amber Odvody addressed Representative Doug Lamborn.
"My question would be, how do you as a person of faith respond to immigration, with the knowledge that every human being is made in the image of God?"
"We can’t do everything for everybody," Congressman Lamborn responded, "and our first duty is to the citizens and the people living here in this country."
Lamborn has continually criticized the U.S. Senate’s bi-partisan immigration reform package that passed in late June. He says the bill will lead to amnesty and is therefore unacceptable. His words received loud applause from the crowd at the town hall - a reflection of how strongly many conservative voters still oppose a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally.
Faith leaders are pushing hard to win over those voters. In August the Evangelical Immigration Table, a national coalition of Christians, spent more than $400,000 on a nationwide radio campaign.
Michelle Warren is one of many Christian leaders in Colorado lobbying for changes to immigration policy. She says the national movement pray for reform inspired her to start reading her bible differently.
"It says God has ... a special heart for the immigrant," she said. "He has a heart for all people, but he specifically lists out the widow, the orphan, the foreigner - or what we would call the immigrant."
Warren hopes the message will shift the views of Colorado’s conservative lawmakers. Currently, neither Republican Representative Scott Tipton of Cortez nor Cory Gardner of Yuma supports a path to citizenship. The lone Colorado GOP Congressman that differs on the issue is Mike Coffman of Aurora.
"We have to be compassionate," he told Colorado Public Radio. "I don’t want to have to break up these families. And so we allow them to come of the shadows and have a temporary legal status."
That’s a big turnaround for Coffman. Not long ago he completely ruled that out. But then, his district was redrawn to include a much larger Hispanic population. When that happened, activists like Brendan Green immediately began the full court press. Green says they sent numerous delegations of families to speak to Coffman.
The Congressman says he was moved by their stories.
"It’s different, I think, when you’re looking at an issue on paper than when you’re working with people that are sitting across from you," Coffman said.
Critics say Coffman’s switch is all about winning reelection next year, in one of the most contested seats in the nation. Coffman denies that, saying he is representing a very different district than he had before.
Coffman says the U.S border must be secured before he’d consider a path to citizenship for adults who are in the country illegally. But, even the fact that he’s willing to consider it reflects the shifting ground under the GOP. Advocates hope the U.S. House will vote on the issue before the end of the year.
[Photo: Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition]