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James Mejia: Activist attacks Denver mayoral candidate for using phrase "illegal immigrants"

Categories: Politics

Thumbnail image for james mejia facebook profile photo cropped.jpg
James Mejia.
James Mejia is now among the frontrunners in the race for Denver mayor, which makes him a target for attacks -- including an unexpected one from a group of Latino activists led by Lidia Ortiz.

They've written an open letter blasting Mejia for using the phrase "illegal immigrants" in a Denver Post issues roundup this past weekend. See it and the Mejia campaign's response below.

Mayoral candidates were asked the following question by the Post: "Do you support efforts at the state level to provide in-state tuition at Colorado colleges and universities for the children of illegal immigrants?" Mejia responded, "I do support in-state tuition at Colorado colleges for children of illegal immigrants."

This phrasing set off Ortiz and the other letter signatories. They write, "The use of 'illegal,' by any person much less a fellow Latino, as a description of an entire race of people envelopes all of us in a poisonous cloud of racism, discrimination, bias and unfairness."

What's Mejia campaign manager Berrick Abramson's response? "When asked about tuition equity by the Denver Post editorial board, James repeated the question as asked in his response," he writes via e-mail -- and then encourages support for SB 126, the so-called ASSET Bill, which calls for tuition equity for such students. He also shares a release from Mejia touting the legislation. He calls the statement "yet another public illustration of his lifelong commitment to education."

By the way, Ortiz is a prominent supporter of fellow mayoral candidate Chris Romer, frequently liking items on his campaign Facebook page.

Look below to see the activists' letter, followed by the Mejia campaign release.

Activists letter:

Mejia Illegal Immigrant Quote

To Whom It May Concern:

It is with great alarm and disappointment that we read The Denver Post Sunday's April 17, 2011 Question/Answer article with the Denver Mayoral candidates. There were several questions asked regarding the Denver Public Schools in particular and Denver education in general.

When asked about their position on tuition equity for children of undocumented parents, each candidate answered the question either pro or con. However, the most prominent Latino candidate James Mejia answered... "I support tuition equity for children of illegal immigrants."

We had to re-read Mr. Mejia's answer to see if indeed we had misread it. There it was. "Illegal immigrant"; coming from a candidate who has professed to support a socially progressive and aggressive agenda for the large Latino demographic in the City and County Denver. This is not a mistake... a gaffe. This was a reaffirmation, by a Latino no less, of the struggle of millions of Latino citizens, and noncitizens alike, face day in and day out when the dehumanizing, degrading, and divisive label of "illegal" is used. This disgraceful label casts a pejorative impression upon not only human beings, but our brethren; our mestizo brothers and sisters across the Western Hemisphere.

The use of "illegal," by any person much less a fellow Latino, as a description of an entire race of people envelopes all of us in a poisonous cloud of racism, discrimination, bias and unfairness. It dishonors our ancestors who helped make this country rich and great; fought and died in its wars; marched, beaten, jailed and died in its streets for justice and peace.

Mr. Mejia, your heartless and insensitive comments make us severely question the Latino support of your candidacy. We demand that you immediately cease and desist from ever using such a detestable label again when describing your own people.

Sincerely,

COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS and CONCERNED CITIZENS

Rudy Gonzales
Mannie Rodriguez
Don Sandoval
Lidia J. Ortiz
Jimmy Lovato
John Garcia
Dr. Efrain Martinez

Editor's note, 8:18 a.m. April 21: The original version of the letter above included among its signatories Theresa Solano, president and CEO of the Latina Chamber of Commerce. Solano left a message with Westword asking that we remove her name, because she never gave approval for it to be used in association with the letter.

Mejia campaign release:

Mejia applauds Senate passage of ASSET Bill

Calls for Denver delegation and full State House to quickly pass bill

DENVER -- Denver Mayoral Candidate James Mejia today reiterated his support of SB 126, the ASSET Bill which provides undocumented students access to higher education and called for quick passage of the bill by the Colorado State House of Representatives.

Last week the Colorado Senate passed, the Colorado ASSET bill that would allow undocumented high school graduates to attend Colorado's colleges and universities while paying in-state tuition.

"This is a bold and courageous action and I applaud the Colorado Senate for the passage of the ASSET bill. Out of state tuition can triple the cost of a college education, making it out of reach for most high school graduates. We must have an educated workforce to rebuild our economy and move Denver forward," said Mejia. "The passage of SB 126 is critical to our future economic success as a city. I encourage Denver's delegation and all of Colorado's Representatives to quickly pass this bill in the Colorado House."

The ASSET bill would allow undocumented high school graduates to pay unsubsidized in-state tuition at Colorado's colleges and universities. Upon graduation, the student will have twelve months to apply and be accepted at one of Colorado's institutions of higher learning. The ASSET bill has broad public support from local government, the business community, seven Metro school districts and K-12 and higher education boards of trustees and organizations.

"Senators Angela Giron and Michael Johnston have fought hard to give all high school graduates access to higher education. I join them in that effort and look forward to the day when all of Colorado's students are treated equally," Mejia added.

About James Mejia:

James is a Denver native from a family of 13 children raised in Park Hill. He is a graduate of East High School, the University of Notre Dame, Arizona State University and Princeton University. He began his work with the City when as a college student he worked summers for Denver Parks and Rec to help pay his tuition, and later went on to become Manager of the Department for Mayor Webb. James has served on the DPS School Board, elected as an at-large member, is the founding CEO of the Denver Preschool Program and was recruited by Mayor Hickenlooper to lead the development of the Denver Justice Center, a $425 million bond project which he delivered on time and on budget. He is one of Denver's most respected leaders having received the 2009 Community Leader of the Year from 9News and the Denver Chamber Leadership Foundation. James is married to Dr. Heather Riley. They have three girls; seven-year old "twins by marriage," Moya and Alexandra and one year old Riley.

More from our Politics archive: "James Mejia wraps up campaign to sleep his way around the city on his quest to become mayor."


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21 comments
Tired of IAs
Tired of IAs

Lidia Ortiz and your fellow "activists":You signed a letter stating "The use of "illegal," by any person much less a fellow Latino, as a description of an entire race ..." is pathetic and ignorant.  James Mejia used the term "illegal immigrant" to describe, not one race, but those that are in the USA illegally!  How can you and your fellow activists interpret Mr. Mejia's response of "I do support in-state tuition at Colorado colleges for children of illegal immigrants." as "I do support in-state tuition at Colorado colleges for children of Cambodians/Russians/Mexicans/Guatemalens/etc.???Perhaps I should waste Mr. Mejia's time too by writing an open letter blasting Mejia for using the phrase "illegal immigrants" instead of illegal aliens, undocumented immigrants, criminal aliens, educational thieves, etc....

Apple Sauce
Apple Sauce

A vote for Calamity James Mejia is a vote for illegal aliens. Period.

Ronb23
Ronb23

leticia olalia morales of 15501 pasadena ave #8 tustin ca 92780 submitted fake documents and paid 5000.00 dollars to obtain a US tourist visa. she is now applying for citizenship.

Corey Donahue
Corey Donahue

With Americas economy we don't need to worry about undocumented workers coming here. There are no jobs. Undocumented workers come for an opportunity to improve their lives there is no opportunity here. So our shitty economy and the theft of our money by the government on behalf of the richest 1% will soon enough fix the problem of employment migration to this country. Hello great American Brain Drain.

Bruce Baker
Bruce Baker

The very presence of so many millions of illegal aliens in this country is a slap in the face to the millions who did immigrate legally and for the thousands who are at this minute waiting to do it the right way. What part of illegal is hard to understand?

E-Verify for all employers and finally enforce the laws against hiring illegals. They will self-deport without job prospects.

Domi
Domi

So, why isn't Ms. Ortiz doing an open letter to The Denver Post, who posed the question, "Do you support efforts at the state level to provide in-state tuition at Colorado colleges and universities for the children of ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS?" It seems to me Mejia was responding to the question AS IT WAS ASKED.

Not buying it
Not buying it

Dear Lidia Ortiz,

Please cease and desist trying to stir up controversy where there is none. Please cease and desist taking someone's answers and using them out of context. Please cease and desist assuming that all people assume all illegal immigrants are Latino.

YOU are the one, in your letter, who ascribes "illegal" to an entire race of people, because as far as I can read, the only thing the Post question mentioned was "illegal immigrants" not Latinos specifically.

Ms. Ortiz, your mindless and incomprehensible comments make me question the human race's inclusion of you in it.

Geeeeee
Geeeeee

Is this Rudy guy serious? So all illegal immigrants are now Latino? How does Mejia saying he believes the children of illegal immigrants should get in state tuition racists? These kids are children of people who are not in the country legally--making them "illegal". They can be of any race or nationality. I think this Rudy character is racists for saying all illegals are Latino.

Confused
Confused

I'm still confused why the "illegal" status is tolerated. Is it that hard to offer them citizenship? Why are we allowing people to break the law? Also, since they and their children are here "illegally" do the citizens of this country pay for their kids free public school education, ect...???

If we know that a given child is here "illegally" because of their parents, then don't we then know where the parents are? Same question. Why do we not either boot them out or offer them citizenship? We are they allowed to continue to break the law and take up resources they are not paying for?

I'm just looking for answers...

MojoJojo
MojoJojo

Give me a break.. The term Illegal Immigrant is used to describe people who come to this country ILLEGALLY! It has nothing to do with RACE.

TwoWayStreet
TwoWayStreet

Ah, the politics of race.

Maybe the "community activists" would prefer to be referred to as "race betrayers" for both supporting Romer and entrenching the racist belief that "illegal immigrant" is code for Latino.

bigriggs
bigriggs

This is a joke, right????? How dare a person hurt someone elses feelings by calling them exactly what they are.

colmed
colmed

Truth does not matter to Ortiz given the political agenda. It was no more complicated than present innacurate information and spin it to serve her agenda.

Mantonat
Mantonat

There are other stages of residency besides being here illegally and being a citizen. A person can come to the US and live and work legally without being a citizen. Work visas of various durations and permanent residency are completely legal as long as immigrants go through the proper channels. The US does not need to offer anyone citizenship. The answers for properly documenting people who come to this country to live and/or work is to realize that people coming across our borders are almost always here to work and earn money and that the majority of them are not "stealing" jobs from Americans.

Carrollgene74
Carrollgene74

Exactly--should've said illegal criminals. This kind of stuff drives me crazy. They are all a bunch of thugs, and that includes all "latino organizations which aid and abet criminal behaviour by latinos, legal or illegal.

Tired of IAs
Tired of IAs

Mantonat: ROUGHLY 7.5 million illegal immigrants currently work in the USA.  You truly believe these illegal immigrants are not stealing jobs from Americans?  Please read below and educate yourself before making such a false claim:

December 2010 Jobless Numbers - Friday, July 2, 2010Overall Unemployment Rate9.4% -- 14.4 million Americans   Unemployment Rate among Black Americans15.8%   Unemployment Rate among Hispanics13.0%   Unemployment Rate among Teenagers25.4%   U-6 Unemployment Rate(includes unemployed Americans, those who have settled for part-time work, and those who have given up their job search altogether)16.7%   Total Jobs lost in December 2010260,000Of young American adults aged 18-29 with only a high school degree: 40% of all these young adults don't have a job.43% of the Hispanic-American young adults don't have a job.50% of Black Americans of this group don't have a job.

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