09.25.19

Longmont immigrants face racist comments, but also feel support

Donna Lovato is a 7th-generation U.S. citizen with no discernible Spanish accent. Yet, she’s had to put up with people saying they can’t understand her accent, and others who’ve told her, “Go back where you came from.

”Latino residents say racist comments are on the rise in Longmont over the past few years, said Lovato, executive director of El Comite.

“It was all in the closet before,” she said. “Now they’re out about it."

El Comite advocates for Longmont’s immigrant population. Its case workers in 2018 assisted 2,771 clients from 24 countries, speaking a total of 15 different languages. Most were Spanish speaking, and 73% were from Mexico. It pains Lovato that her clients deal with comments like “Go back to your country,” in addition to trying to scratch a life out for their families on extremely limited incomes.

Hundreds of families have left Longmont since 2017, and officials suspect they are pulling their children out of the local schools to relocate to their countries of origin. Evidence of this trend is showing up as an increased drop-out rate amongst Latino students in St. Vrain Valley Schools. That’s because students who are not re-enrolled in another school district in the US are counted as drop-outs, though they may be re-enrolling in Mexico or another country.

Lovato looked out the window of her small office. “I don’t want to be all Donkey Downer, though,” she said. She pulled out a newspaper ad from nearby High Plains Bank, advertising its citizenship loans.

Two years earlier, Lovato and her colleague, Marta Moreno, had approached the bank’s president, John Creighton, to see if he could offer small loans to clients who wanted to apply for US citizenship but couldn’t afford the $725 fee. The bank worked out a 24-month, unsecured loan where it paid the application fees directly and borrowers paid the bank back over two years, at $32.54 per month.

“One of the conversations we have here on an ongoing basis is, ‘What are things we can do to support people in our community?’” Creighton said, adding that the decision to develop the Citizenship Loan was easy.

High Plains issued about 15 of the loans during the first two years it was offered. Everyone paid as agreed. Only one borrower was late on one payment, and he was extremely apologetic. “There’s lots of small gestures that business owners can make that have a profound impact on peoples’ lives,” Creighton said.

by Chris Barge