by Libby James
Patricia Miller experienced a moment when she could no longer stand quietly by and watch the plight of immigrants confronting rules changes following the national election of 2016. An immigrant herself, Miller came to the U.S. from El Salvador with her family when she was 11. She was fortunate. Her father, who had been doing business in the U.S, for several years, had been granted U.S. citizenship through the Immigration and Control Act of 1968. When an on-going civil war in El Salvador forced the family to leave their home country, her father’s status made their relocation possible.
“I was privileged and I knew it,” she explains. “I was able to attend school, get a driver’s license, a college scholarship, and apply for a job when the time came.”
After graduation from Colorado State University, she began what would become a 20-year career at Hewlett, married and started a family. Busy as she was, in 2017 she made the time to start Alianza NORCO, a local non-profit organization committed to providing a range of key services for immigrant communities in Northern Colorado. Since then, the organization has grown to the point where Miller could no longer manage parenting, a full-time job, and acting as executive director of Alianza. Quitting her job was a difficult, risky but necessary decision for her.
These days she devotes all her time to nurturing the organization. She describes the efforts of Alianza NORCO, which translates asNorthern Colorado Alliance, into four areas she refers to as pillars.
Undocumented immigrants in Colorado face several obstacles when they attempt to get drivers’ licenses.
“We’re fortunate in Colorado,” Miller says. “In many states undocumented individuals are not allowed to apply for drivers’ licenses under any circumstances.”
Locally, Alianza has become a trusted partner with the Department of Motor Vehicles, making it easier for applicants to get DMV appointments and complete the licensing process. The non-profit organization conducts workshops designed to remove obstacles by educating people and making sure that when they make an application, all their paperwork is in order. To date, Alianza has obtained 500 appointments for drivers’ licenses. Currently, licenses can be obtained in four cities: Lakewood, Aurora, Grand Junction, and Colorado Springs. Seven more bureaus are scheduled to open in 2020, but none of them are in Fort Collins.
A second pillar is the preparation of Family Preparedness Packets. Workshops encourage undocumented families to wade through the maze of what they need to do to be prepared in case of an ICE raid. Legal documents must be in place. A packet needs to contain contact information for a hotline and an advocate organization. There should be legal documents in place assigning guardianship for children should their parents be detained or deported, an assessment of assets including belongings, and contact information for someone on the outside who can help. An Alianza workshop can go a long way toward lessening the trauma caused by an ICE roundup and possible detention/deportation.
A third pillar is for the organization to become a provider of low-cost and pro-bono immigration legal services, in partnership with an immigration attorney Several of the volunteers are on track to become accredited representatives through the Department of Justice.
Finally, Alianza NORCO is part of the Colorado Rapid Response Network (CORRN) that monitors ICE activity whenever it is reported to them. “We act as a watchdog and advocacy network,” Miller says, filling a legal observer role by recording and collecting pertinent information. Miller is committed to seeing the network grow in its capacity to monitor any questionable behavior by ICE.
Miller has not forgotten the help and support she received as a newcomer to the U.S. and wants to pay it back. “There is something in me that has to do something,” she says. “We have had amazing help from volunteers.”
Anyone interested in becoming involved, whether or not they are Spanish speakers, is welcome. Activities can range from spreading the word about Alianza, planning informative and fundraising events, and making community contacts aimed at making Alianza sustainable. For more information visit https://alianzanorco.org/