Carbondale immigrant becomes symbol in growing national debate |

Carbondale immigrant becomes symbol in growing national debate

John Stroud
Post Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – An outspoken local advocate for immigration reform became a poster child in the growing national debate Thursday, after he was detained by federal immigration officials and threatened with deportation to Mexico, only to be released in Denver as friends and family rallied for his cause back home.

“I’m really proud of all of you, and thanks from the bottom of my heart,” Carbondale resident Edgar Niebla said over a speaker phone held up by his sister during the rally outside the Garfield County Courthouse building.

“They didn’t know who they were getting into this with,” he said shortly after his release from the Aurora GEO detention center around 6 p.m. Thursday, one day after he was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials at his home in Blue Lake early Wednesday morning.

“We must keep on fighting and struggling, and I’m ready to do that,” he said. “I’m not going to stop, and I hope they don’t get in my way again.”

The hastily organized rally and candlelight vigil in Glenwood was intended to call attention to Niebla’s case and to try to halt his deportation.

Before the rally even started, Niebla had been given a temporary release and stay of deportation as he seeks to obtain legal citizenship, as his two sisters and mother were granted eight years ago.

Because of a legal glitch with his paperwork, his citizenship was denied along with his father’s, and has been on appeal ever since.

Earlier this year, Niebla received his deportation order to return to Mexico, a country to which the 27-year-old hasn’t been in 20 years and has no direct ties.

Preparing to be put on a bus for Mexico this morning, Niebla said his release was just as surprising as his arrest two days ago.

“Now, I’m outside on the street in Aurora getting ready to do a press conference,” he said of his case, which rapidly gained state and national media attention.

“I’ve never seen a reaction to a case like I’ve seen with this one,” said Brendan Greene, a regional organizer for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC).

“Edgar is the poster child for national immigration reform,” Greene said. “He’s well-known and respected throughout the valley, and even the whole state. He’s a church youth group leader and has been working to become a police officer.

“He’s one of the millions of people in this country who would qualify for citizenship as a dream acter,” he said of a proposed federal provision that would allow immigrants who entered the United States before they were 16 to have a path to citizenship.

“His case just exemplifies the flawed application process, and how one little mistake can have him deported to a country he doesn’t even know,” Greene said.

Niebla came to the Roaring Fork Valley from Mexico with his family when he was 7, and attended and graduated from Basalt schools. He recently completed his law enforcement training at the Colorado Mountain College police academy.

“Since he was 13 or 14, he’s wanted to become a police officer, because he knew that was how he would really be able to give back to his community,” his sister, Alba Sherman Niebla, said at the Thursday evening rally.

“We were still in the process of appealing when they came yesterday to his house and took him away,” she said. “This shouldn’t happen. We’re not just here tonight for one, we’re here for the millions of people in Edgar’s situation. His release is just a small victory, and we cannot give up the fight.”

His own situation has led Niebla to organize for immigration reform locally, statewide and even nationally. He was on the bus to recent rallies in Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas in support of immigration reform legislation currently before Congress.

“I came here with a combination of being very sad and being angry at the same time,” CMC police academy instructor John Goodwin said at the rally. “I had no idea until I got here that he’d been released.

“This is about a system that makes no sense at all,” Goodwin said of the need for reform. “Edgar is a good student who became a good friend. To send him to Mexico would be like sending him to the moon. He’s not from Mexico, he’s an American.”

Added Kevin Brun, the CMC police academy director who also attended the rally, “I feel ashamed of the United States government for what they’ve done to my friend, and I will do whatever I can to help him.”

Last night in Denver, students who were planning walkouts today denouncing Arizona’s new immigration law SB1070, also gathered to celebrate Niebla’s temporary release, according to CIRC.

“We hope Edgar’s struggle will help lead to the passage of just and humane comprehensive immigration reform in 2010 to prevent further deportations and family separations,” CIRC Executive Director Julien Ross said. “This only highlights the urgent need for federal comprehensive immigration reform.”

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