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After detainments and personal data leaks, Colorado’s immigrant community is losing trust.

Eight years ago, thousands of Coloradans lacking documentation of legal residency in the U.S. placed their trust in our state government by providing their personal information in order to obtain a driver’s license following the enactment of Senate Bill 251, The Colorado Road and Community Safety Act. They did so with full faith that Colorado’s government would safeguard this information and, in turn, that this legislation would benefit themselves and all Coloradans by enhancing public safety and our economy.

In some instances, however, this trust has been betrayed.

Now more than ever, it’s critical that all Coloradans can trust that the personal information they provide to the state to access vital services, such as driver’s licenses, vaccines, and contact tracing, will be kept secure. I find it important to share the stories of two parents of Denver Public Schools students (with their permission), who were detained by federal immigration officials just about a year ago. Stories of these two individuals sadly exemplify what it looks like when trust in government has been betrayed.

In Southwest Denver, a dad was detained just blocks from his daughter’s school. In Northeast Denver, a mom was dragged from her car in front of her neighbors and taken away just moments after picking up food for her family at a Denver Public School food site. These parents had two things in common: they had no outstanding immigration cases and they had entrusted their information to the State of Colorado when they received an SB251 driver’s license. Both parents suspect their information was turned over to federal agents by the state. They are unable to come forward because they no longer trust the system they were promised would protect their privacy. While they may not be able to speak up for themselves out of fear, it’s important that we stand united to advocate for our government to restore this broken trust. Because what is the result when we ask vulnerable persons to entrust us with their most sensitive information and we violate this trust? We risk forcing these same people into the shadows of our society, where they are less likely to participate in our basic functions, including licensing and insuring their vehicles, utilizing education for their children, and reporting violent crimes when they are victims. In short, a Colorado that forces its most vulnerable into the shadows is a less safe Colorado for everyone.

We need a process for rightful requests for information to be submitted, vetted, and granted. Right now, a single person, as we believe happened in this case, can serve as judge, jury, and executioner of families by taking advantage of loopholes in the current privacy guidance, in turn violating our constitutional rights.

While Gov. Jared Polis issued data privacy guidance in May 2020, these protections need to be codified and enhanced. Senate Bill 131, introduced by state Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, and state Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver, aims to do just that by establishing guidelines for how Coloradans’ personal identifying information can be shared with federal agencies.

In the state capitol building, there is a plaque that honors former Governor Ralph Carr, who courageously stood up for the rights of all Coloradans regardless of the political cost. He said “we must protect the rights of “every man or we shall not have it to protect any man.” I leave you with the request from the daughter of a father detained as a result of this breach of trust. “All I want is this to never happen to another family.” Colorado lawmakers can fulfill that wish today and take the first step in restoring trust and upholding the rights of all Coloradoans with SB 131.

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