Colorado is now about 21 percent Latino and growing, and some analysts say Latino residents will account for much of the job growth in the state over the next few years.
This will mean an ever-widening range of legal needs for the new residents. For starters, lawyers recommend avoiding so-called “notarios,” fraudulent legal consultants who claim to offer immigration-related advice and services without any training in the area.
Taking bad advice—filing inappropriate paperwork, for example—“can not only lead to a waste of money, but it can also set in motion a deportation or removal process that perhaps could have been avoided with competent legal advice,” says Brad Hendrick
, immigration section head at Caplan and Earnest in Boulder.
All-purpose lawyers are another red flag. “It's hard to dabble in immigration,” Hendrick says. He recommends finding an attorney focused on immigration, preferably a member of professional associations such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association or the National Immigration Project.
“That doesn't guarantee
they're going to be a good lawyer,” says Hans Meyer
, founder of Meyer Law Office in Denver, which specializes in criminal defense of immigrants and immigration policy. “But it's far more likely that they're going to know what they're doing.”
The question of whether to apply for citizenship can be a daunting one.
“Just because you’ve been a permanent resident for five years doesn't mean you want to turn around and apply for citizenship,” says David Harston
, managing partner at Elkind Alterman Harston in Denver. The government will examine everything about your residency, and if it thinks you did something wrong, he explains, it can move to take away residency.
Access to education can also be a challenge.
Denise Hoffman White
, managing partner at Hoffman Crews Nies Waggener & Foster in Greenwood Village, says when it comes to higher education, the most prevalent issue is citizenship status.
Undocumented young adults may be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (commonly known as DACA) and temporary permission to remain in the United States, but this still does not make them eligible for government financial aid. Therefore they cannot obtain grants or loans for college. However, many higher education institutions in Colorado grant DACA students the right to in-state tuition, but they have to pay from their own savings if they want to attend. “For students who don’t know their status, or need assistance determining their options, the National Immigration Law Center is a great starting point,” Hoffman White says.
Many Latinos run into employment issues as well, including on-the-job discrimination.
In those situations, says David Lane
, partner at Killmer, Lane & Newman in Denver, the most important thing is to gather evidence—even simple things like emails to human resources. “Get proof before it comes to a head. If it's not in writing, it never happened. It's extremely important that you not let the case get into your-word-versus-their-word.”
Groups that can help in such cases include the Colorado Plaintiff Employment Lawyers Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Don't just take it,” says Lane. “I've seen it over and over: People are so beat down on the job, and they're so afraid of losing their jobs, they don’t say anything.”
Because minorities are also more likely to come into contact with the police and the criminal justice system—even when they have done nothing wrong—Meyer recommends they become involved in civil rights and accountability organizations. That will help them get to know their rights, and to potentially have someone to call if they need help.
“People can't afford to have attorneys on standby,” he says. “The reality is: We need to be on top of our game in terms of understanding our constitutional rights.”
When cases of wrongful accusation do come up, a support system can be crucial.
“The case takes on a life of its own and, if the public is with you, it gives a judge or prosecutor cover to do the right thing,” says Lane.
“In my experience,” says Harston, “the challenge often revolves around a general lack of understanding of our various systems,” from education to government benefit agencies.
It can be daunting to navigate and receive equitable treatment within those systems, but Harston advises people not to give up. “There are resources out there. Whether you find them through your workplace, your place of worship or your kid's school—they're out there, and it’s important to not be afraid to engage with those services.”