In a surprising departure from his earlier stance supporting Secure Communities, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told a large group of leaders and members of the Latino community Monday night that the program needs to be halted.

"Now that we are gaining more data of what's happening across this nation with regards to Secure Communities, I think it would be very smart, quite frankly, for the federal government to stall the program to allow the kinks to be worked out," Hancock said.

The mayor was responding to a question posed by Julie Gonzalez, of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, regarding the failure of Secure Communities - a federal enforcement program design to deport undocumented immigrants convicted of felonies.

Gonzalez told the crowd of about 100 people that in Denver County only 29% of people who have been arrested and scheduled for deportation under the program were convicted of violent and dangerous felonies.

The other 71% were detained for minor infractions or had no criminal convictions at all.

"The conversations have already started around how do we halt this program and begin to clean it up so we don't continue to disregard the sanctity and humanity of life and families under the premise of this program," Hancock told a surprised Gonzalez.

But immigration was not the only item on the agenda. Education, economic development and mayoral appointments were some of the other topics tackled in the packed cafeteria of Escuela Tlatelolco in West Denver. The meeting with the mayor was organized by the Colorado Latino Forum and presided by Lisa Calderón, of the Community Reentry Project.

Mayor Michael Hancock joined the Colorado Latino Forum’s Denver Chapter at Escuela Tlatelolco on December 19, 2011, in West Denver.
Mayor Michael Hancock joined the Colorado Latino Forum's Denver Chapter at Escuela Tlatelolco on December 19, 2011, in West Denver. (Manuel Martinez/Viva Colorado)

Calderon opened up the meeting by asking Hancock about the underrepresentation of Latinos in mayoral appointments. According to the 2010 census, Denver's Latino population is 32%, but they only make up 19% of the appointees, she said. Furthermore, Calderon added, out of 182 positions in the city's boards and commissions, only 28 are Latinos.

"What steps will you take to ensure La- tinos are proportionately represented in your mayoral appointments?" she asked.

"We have done and will continue to do everything we can to identify the very best and the brightest to work in the city of Denver," Hancock responded. "Do I take great concern toward diversity? Absolutely. It's who I am."

Derek Blass of CLF asked about the appointment of Latinos to positions currently open including those of independent monitor, deputy at Denver Human Services and deputy city attorney.

"I suspect we're going to have more Latino appointments coming up very soon," said Hancock.

Education was another hot topic, including equal educational opportunities for English Language Learners.

"I, personally, I'm tired of our Spanish-speaking kids going into DPS speaking Spanish and then coming out and speaking English only, but white kids going in there and speaking two languages. That's an injustice and I'd like addressed," said Ramon del Castillo, chair of the Chicano/a Studies Department at Metropolitan State College.