Last Thursday, U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) voted for a Republican non-binding budget amendment aiming to prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving stimulus checks. Colorado immigration advocacy groups and community leaders lambasted Hickenlooper over his vote.

People in the United States illegally are already ineligible for stimulus payments since they do not have a social security number, so Hickenlooper’s support of the non-binding amendment is mostly symbolic. That symbolism is not lost on the immigration advocates in Colorado.

State Sen. Julie Gonzales (D-Denver) said that Hickenlooper shouldn’t get to pick and choose when he cares about immigrants. During his 2020 senate campaign, Hickenlooper branded himself as a champion for immigrant rights.

“Usually politicians don’t slam the door shut on Latino voters so abruptly,” Gonzales told The Denver Post. “Usually they Hispander for a few months after the election.”

The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition Action Fund (CIRC-AF) campaigned for Hickenlooper during his senate race, making over 300,000 phone calls and sending over one million texts and 75,000 mailers to grow support for the former Governor, according to the organization’s website.

CIRC-AF released a statement calling Hickenlooper’s vote, “a slap in the face” to undocumented immigrants, especially to those who are also frontline workers. Ian Pham, CIRC-AF communications manager, said that they will continue to hold Hickenlooper accountable when it comes to immigration reform.

“CIRC Action Fund did not work to elect John Hickenlooper to watch him turn around and backstab us in his vote to not provide stimulus checks to undocumented workers,” Pham said. “We look forward to the following days to see how he remedies today’s action, specifically how he will pass immigration reform that includes pathway to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented people.”

The ACLU of Colorado released a letter signed by 300 organizations, elected officials, businesses, and community members condemning Hickenlooper and demanding accountability.

The letter pointed out that Hickenlooper campaigned on a promise to fight for the immigration community in Colorado. The letter also emphasized how immigrant communities are at higher risk for COVID-19 because of dense housing, crowded living conditions, and a higher proportion of essential workers unable to work from home.

“The message U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper sent on February 4, 2021, with his vote to block vital stimulus payments to undocumented immigrants was loud and clear: I only care about you when I’m campaigning,” the letter read.

Denise Maes, ACLU of Colorado Public Policy Director, said that Hickenlooper must prove that he is the immigration champion he claims to be to regain the immigration community’s trust.

“The senator’s vote to deny critical relief to people who need it most was a slap in the face to every essential worker, every immigrant, and every Coloradan,” Maes said. “It is not enough for him to praise people as essential while campaigning. The senator must actually prove it through his actions as an elected.” 

In addition to CIRC-AF, ACLU of Colorado, and the 300 other signees of the letter, prominent Colorado immigrant rights law firm Meyer Law Office released a statement which labeled Hickenlooper’s vote as a “betrayal” to the state.

“Colorado did not elect John Hickenlooper to the Senate so he could cast chickenshit votes,” said Meyer Law Office principal Hans Meyer. “Immigrants have been hit as hard as anyone by this devastating pandemic, and the last thing they deserve is more backstabbing from their representatives in Washington. We demand better.”

On Monday, Colorado’s three members of the Democratic National Committee — Joe Salazar, Jeri Shepard, and Radhika Nath — called for a “public censure” of Hickenlooper after his vote.

Hickenlooper then met virtually with leaders of the immigrant community including the ACLU of Colorado. Hickenlooper was, according to Maes, receptive to their criticisms. Hickenlooper’s office provided a statement to Denver7 that the senator was still committed to comprehensive immigration reform.

“Immigrant communities and undocumented workers specifically are on the front lines of our economy — now more than ever. I recognize how this vote has distorted that important fact and fed dangerous and damaging narratives about the undocumented community. We’ve had several productive conversations about this and I remain committed to working together to finally achieve a comprehensive fix for our broken immigration system, including a pathway to citizenship,” the statement read.

According to the Colorado Sun’s newsletter, The Unaffiliated, Maes heard from Shad Murib, Hickenlooper’s state political director.

“I think his message was: ‘We hear you. We got it wrong. We’ll do better,’” Maes said.