Littleton Immigrant Resources Center faces fund cutoff

Community members voice concern over council decision

Robert Tann
rtann@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 9/20/21

For years, the future of Littleton's only affordable resource center for immigrants seeking citizenship has been uncertain. But following a recent city council budget meeting, members appear poised …

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Littleton Immigrant Resources Center faces fund cutoff

Community members voice concern over council decision

Posted

For years, the future of Littleton's only affordable resource center for immigrants seeking citizenship has been uncertain. But following a recent city council budget meeting, members appear poised to pull funding from the center by fall of next year.

On Sept. 11, the city council came to a 5-2 decision to move ahead with cutting the Littleton Immigrant Resources Center's roughly $150,000 in annual funding. Councilmembers will formally vote on the move in October.

Councilmembers Patrick Driscoll, Carol Fey, Pam Grove, Mark Runicki and Mayor Jerry Valdes all supported defunding.

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Melin, who sided with Councilmember Kelly Milliman in support of funding the center, said he is disappointed with the council's decision.

“This is a program that's in place right now to make our community more diverse and more inclusive. It's an important symbol,” he said in an interview with Colorado Community Media.

Federal grant was already lost

The center has for years helped hundreds of legal green-card holders take the final step toward U.S. citizenship through offering low-cost civics and English lessons, test preparation and help filling out forms.

The center has won a slew of awards and garnered national praise. In 2010 it was recognized by Harvard's Bright Ideas, which spotlights innovative government programs. Sen. Michael Bennet, after visiting the center in 2013, cited it as a model for immigrant assistance provisions in a bipartisan immigration reform bill.

Though it offered limited assistance in the years since its inception in 2005, a $250,000 biennal grant awarded to the center in 2012 from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services helped it to expand.

But in 2018, under the Trump administration, the center lost the federal grant following low attendance for follow-up tests after citizenship classes.

Since then, the City of Littleton pledged to cover the cost, albeit temporarily. Valdes has repeatedly expressed that funding for the center was never intended to be permanent.

“If people want this kind of thing, it should be up to private donations,” Valdes told CCM in a May 2020 interview, adding that it isn't the city's responsibility to fund nonprofits.

Still, with roughly $40 million in its general fund, Melin believes the city could put up the money needed to keep the center afloat, especially with city plans to offset certain expenditures with funding from federal COVID-19 relief packages.

“I appreciate the point that Littleton shouldn't be funding this all by itself. We need to continue looking for community partnership money,” Melin said. “But this program is too important, too important to the lives of the people it is touching.”

Since January, the center has served 91 immigrants, more than it did during all of 2020, when it served 86.

Nancy Trimm, director for Bemis Library where the center is housed, said LIRC staff has been aware for years that the city wanted it to secure another source of funding, but has been unsuccessful in doing so.

She said the center intends to finish its services for current immigrants but has stopped accepting new clients. It is currently preparing documents with resources for other similar services in the Denver-metro area that it will provide for would-be clients.

Community members speak out

The decision has rocked some Littleton community members who have urged the council to reconsider.

A letter to the council signed by 12 former Littleton mayors and councilmembers praised the center for its efforts and said continued funding would not only strengthen Littleton's commitment to inclusivity but also serve as an economic investment.

“Newcomers from around the world are entrepreneurs and have brought a richness of businesses to Littleton, and (the center) has helped make this a more just and equitable community,” the letter reads.

Susan Thornton, a former Littleton mayor who helped found the center, called the defunding decision a “major mistake.”

“It's one of those things that makes Littleton special, that sets us apart,” she told CCM.

With only a handful of certified resource centers for immigrants in the Denver metro area, Thornton said the Littleton center's continued future is vital.

“This is not the time to cut back on services, this is the time to increase them,” she said.

Joe Rice, a former state representative, said the decision to defund the center comes at a crucial time when the city will need to support incoming refugees from Afghanistan. The Denver metro area is planning to welcome about 1,500 refugees in the coming months.

“The City of Littleton, through its council, is turning its back on refugees and, by extension, U.S. military veterans. In situations like what is happening with Afghan refugees, we should all look to what we can control,” Rice wrote in a letter to councilmembers.

Rice, a veteran of the Iraq war, said he has sponsored Iraqi refugee families who have used the center and continue to live in Littleton. He said the center's help proved crucial in their ability to become self-sufficient after settling in the city.

Valdes, Littleton's mayor, defended council's decision to cease funding and said the center is not a high priority for the city budget. Much of the reason is because the majority of people the center serves live outside Littleton, according to Valdes.

“We don't have funds to continue doing the programs that do not directly affect our citizens,” he said. “We need to have a sustainable budget and that means making cuts. It's a tough decision.”

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