Luis Serrano, an undocumented citizen of the United States since he was 10 years old, has always been afraid for his family.
Growing up, Serrano's family, who came to Longmont from Mexico, was afraid even to drive to the park for fear of getting stopped in the car, questioned and deported. It was hard on Serrano, 21, who told a crowd of about 40 people at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Greeley that he stopped going to school and started doing drugs.
"I would start doing the worst, because I had no hope left," he said.
Serrano was one of five panelists at a forum hosted by the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition on Tuesday who spoke of how a comprehensive immigration reform bill would affect him personally. The forum was held in light of a bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate last month, which would provide many undocumented workers with legal status, permanent green cards or a path to citizenship while securing the borders, tracking those who overstay their visas and keeping employers from hiring workers who are here illegally.
Sonia Marquez, the north region coordinator for the immigrant rights coalition, said she and others had been trying to meet with Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., to talk to him about their perspective on immigration for the past nine months. She said she hoped the forum would pressure him and others in the U.S. House to pass the bill and to listen to their concerns.
Maria Seacrest, who works in Gardner's Greeley office, attended the forum and said after it ended that she has made note to his chief of staff that the group would like to speak with him, and she would pass along what she heard at the forum. Following some criticism of Gardner's lack of accessibility, Seacrest said he has done things outside of just immigration to help Latinos, including tracking down false attorneys who scam those trying to get a family member to get legal status.
For Serrano, immigration reform could have meant that he would have been able to attend the University of Northern Colorado, where he was accepted after he cleaned up his act and graduated from high school. Instead, Serrano said he has had to take odd jobs in roofing and construction.
"I would do a lot more for this country than what I have been doing in the shadows," Serrano said.
Damaris Cooksey, a pumpkin and watermelon farmer in Roggen and a panelist on Tuesday, said the economy of agriculture doesn't allow farmers the luxury of questioning whether their laborers are here legally. She said without migrant workers, many of which are undocumented, she probably couldn't find enough people willing to do the kind of work required in the fields.
Angel Sanchez of Longmont said during his portion of the panel that while he is a U.S. citizen, he watched as one of his friends -- a 4.0 student and a community volunteer -- lost her opportunity to go to school because she was not. Even though Sanchez said he barely graduated from high school, he was the one offered scholarship money.
"I started to realize the power of educating others and bringing others to the table to vote," Sanchez said. Since then, he said he has knocked on doors to get out the vote. He said Serrano has also worked to engage voters and educate them about immigration reform.
Braving barking dogs and doors in their faces, it worked, Sanchez said. Historic numbers of Latinos turned out to vote in the 2008 and 2012 elections.
He turned back to look at Serrano, who has never had the opportunity to vote in a U.S. election.
"How much more American can you get?" ___