Latine Leaders and Daca Recipients Visit Mexico City to Explore Immigration and Climate Policy

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A group of Latine residents and leaders from the valley and across Colorado spent a week in Mexico City earlier this month.

They went there to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico while practicing leadership skills.

The trip was led by a Glenwood Springs-based nonprofit, Voces Unidas de las Montañas, as part of its inaugural Civic Leader Education & Advocacy Program.

Participants met with Mexican nonprofit leaders, policymakers, and government officials to talk about a range of issues that connect the two countries, including immigration policy and climate change.

The 17 delegates on the inaugural trip had ties to Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Argentina—and more than half were recipients of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or ‘DACA,’ program.

It was the first time many of them had been back to their home country of Mexico since they were kids.

Aspen Public Radio’s Eleanor Bennett recently spoke with several of the local participants and facilitators about the experience.

Alan Muñoz of Rifle is the regional organizing manager at Voces Unidas.

Beatriz Soto of New Castle is a Voces Unidas board member and the Protégete program director at Conservation Colorado.

Junior Ortega of Rifle is a founding member of AJUA (Asociación de Jóvenes Unidos en Acción), a youth-led immigrant rights and social justice advocacy organization in the valley.

The conversation below has been edited for clarity and length. 

“The voice and the knowledge that we bring doesn’t only impact our local community, but it impacts beyond borders, you know, back home in Mexico where we still have relatives and friends.”

Junior Ortega: I was just 6 years old when my mom decided to migrate with us to the United States. My parents were struggling economically. They didn’t have enough to give us a future in Mexico. Growing up here in the States, you know, I am a DACA recipient, I didn’t see myself visiting Mexico in the near future. So for me, it was definitely a trip to cherish. It was my first time back in 30 years. For me, it wasn’t my home state of Nayarit, but being reengaged in the culture or even just seeing little things like mementos from Nayarit was really breathtaking.

Eleanor Bennett: Beatriz, how about you? What’s your connection to Mexico?

Beatriz Soto: Well, I’m Mexican-born and I’ve been navigating the U.S. immigration system for a really long time. I am very fortunate to now be an American citizen. So I’ve had the fortune to visit Mexico City on several occasions in the past. It’s a big, impressive city. A lot of culture, a lot of food. It used to be, you know, the empire of the Aztecs, and I feel like you can still really feel that and see that in the population and in the history of the city. But this time it was really different because I was able to go with people like Alan and Junior and so many others that were in the group that hadn’t had the opportunity to be in Mexico or see their family members in such a long time, so it made this trip very unique and very special for me too.

Eleanor Bennett: And Alan, do you want to talk about your experience and your connection to Mexico?

Alan Muñoz: Yeah, so similar to Junior and Beatriz, I was born in Mexico. I was born in the state of Aguascalientes in a small town called Calvillo and I moved to the valley when I was three years old. It was because of opportunity, or better said, the lack of opportunities in our hometown. Growing up undocumented, growing up with DACA, the idea that you’re going to be back in your home country one day is sort of really far from reach. So for me, you know, being a Mexicano and being able to have this opportunity to go back to ‘la tierra natal,’ the native ground where your family’s from and where you have roots, it was just very special.

Juan Franco Orellena takes in the mariachi music on the first night of Voces Unidas’ weeklong leadership trip to Mexico City. Orellena was born in Guatemala and became a DACA recipient after his family moved to Denver when he was a kid.
Juan Franco Orellena takes in the mariachi music on the first night of Voces Unidas’ weeklong leadership trip to Mexico City. Orellena was born in Guatemala and became a DACA recipient after his family moved to Denver when he was a kid.

Eleanor Bennett: And so, Alan and Junior, I’m wondering how were you able to get permission through Voces Unidas to do this trip and know that you’d be able to return, and what was that experience like?

Junior Ortega: The process of getting approved for advance parole is what we had applied for. Just knowing the fact that we would have to be paroled back into the United States, for me it was kind of nerve wracking. A lot of anxiety, a lot of stress, you know, the fear of not knowing.

Alan Muñoz: We started submitting our advance parole applications earlier this year in February and in March because we knew that it was a priority for us to make sure that all nine DACA recipient participants were able to get approved for their advance parole, and that we were all prepared and ready to go through that immigration process. We were very fortunate that our attorney helped prepare and ease those nerves a little bit that Junior was talking about, but still a lot of folks, including myself, did have those nerves.

Eleanor Bennett: Thank you both for sharing that. And it sounds like you really incorporated not just the emotional experience of what that was like into the conversations that you were having every day, but also the policy side of this. What were those conversations like about the border, about our broken immigration system and what did you guys come away with?

Alan Muñoz: So we had Socratic discussions. It was just a conversation between all the participants to really hone in on the topics that we were engaging with. But more importantly than anything, a lot of us provided firsthand experience when it came to migration policy, when it comes to militarization of the border and when it comes to climate migration.

Delegates with Voces Unidas’ new leadership program in Mexico City experience the city’s culture and sights in early July 2023. Delegates on the inaugural trip had ties to Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Argentina; future trips could include other countries in Latin America.
Delegates with Voces Unidas’ new leadership program in Mexico City experience the city’s culture and sights in early July 2023. Delegates on the inaugural trip had ties to Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Argentina; future trips could include other countries in Latin America.

Eleanor Bennett: And Beatriz, you led some of those conversations. Can you talk a little bit more about the connection between immigration and climate change?

Beatriz Soto: Yeah. Well, people have been migrating from Latin America and Mexico over the past two or three decades for different reasons — for economic opportunity, violence, or even some natural disasters. It’s really important to take into consideration that it is human nature to want to move and find a place where you can provide for your family. What really happens is in the face of climate change, a lot of these countries that are experiencing more poverty and are experiencing more instability, you know, climate change is only going to make it worse. I’m originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, and I remember just really hearing about how much water is left in the city to sustain the growth of the city and drought was a really big problem. And that’s when a lot of farmers and a lot of ranchers had to migrate. And the reality is that if we don’t take climate seriously, we’re not really going to be prepared to react in a humane way. Especially knowing that, like you mentioned earlier, Eleanor, our immigration system is currently broken, right? And we haven’t been able to figure out exactly a path forward, even for people like Junior and Alan that are DACA recipients that have been here all their lives — much less have we really figured out how we’re gonna deal with climate migration.

Eleanor Bennett: And how do you bring everything you learned in Mexico City, from conversations with each other and meetings with policymakers — how do you bring all that back and apply it to the advocacy work that you all do here in the valley?

Beatriz Soto: I think what this trip really brought to me and really helped me realize is how policies impact people and their lives and their possibilities to thrive, both in the United States and Mexico, right? It just kind of reiterated the urgency of how as migrants, our leadership is so important and our worldview and our lived experience is absolutely essential to craft policy. The voice and the knowledge that we bring doesn’t only impact our local community, but it impacts beyond borders, you know, back home in Mexico where we still have a lot of relatives and friends.

Voces Unidas board member Beatriz Soto, far left, shares lunch with her fellow delegates on the recent leadership and civic education trip to Mexico City. Soto facilitated conversations on climate migration during the inaugural program.
Voces Unidas board member Beatriz Soto, far left, shares lunch with her fellow delegates on the recent leadership and civic education trip to Mexico City. Soto facilitated conversations on climate migration during the inaugural program.

Eleanor Bennett: And Alan, as an organizer with Voces Unidas, how do you think this trip is going to shape the work you do now that you’re back here in the valley?

Alan Muñoz: I think for Voces Unidas, taking this experience as an organization to really open up these opportunities for more Latinos and Latinas in the future, that’s one thing that we’re definitely bringing home. But on a personal level, for my own professional development and leadership skill development, it’s learning how to leverage sort of these dual perspectives, being binational, to really influence policy in a way that’s going to benefit people who these policies are impacting the most.

Eleanor Bennett: And Junior, as a founding member of AJUA, how are you going to bring everything you learned back home?

Junior Ortega: Well, Beatriz and Alan said it very well, but something that I also want to add is just being re-engaged to know how policy is created here and to kind of reroot myself in the policy that happens in Mexico. Like Beatriz also mentioned, I still have family who are very much affected by how policy is done in Mexico and, you know, I want to be more aware of immigration policies, both here and over there.

Source : Aspen