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First-generation citizen helps fuel Denver's legal immigration clinics

Mayra Mercado Ramirez was brought to the U.S. when she was just 4 years old
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Posted at 7:14 AM, Apr 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-03 12:25:42-04

DENVER — A young Denver woman who was born in Mexico never would have imagined she would be a key player behind Denver's immigration response.

Mayra Mercado Ramirez, 27, is one of the first faces that immigrant newcomers see as they apply for their work permits.

Mercado Ramirez, the business operations administrator for the Denver City Attorney's Office, helps the city coordinate legal clinics in response to the recent influx of immigrants.

She helps the newcomers understand the city's process, sharing her personal story with them as they embark on their immigration journey.

"My parents brought me here when I was four years old," Mercado Ramirez, who arrived in the U.S. on Aug. 11, 2001, said.

The family, which traveled from Torreón, Coahuila, was fueled by hope for the future.

"Better education, but also just better careers," Mercado Ramirez explained.

The family, with no home of their own, stayed with friends until they could get on their feet.

"We stayed in their garage for, I think, a month," she said. "There was my brother, and both my parents, and I."

Her father worked as a miner, and her mother was a homemaker.

Mercado Ramirez's parents, who instilled their sense of perseverance in her, were eventually able to cheer her on as she walked across the stage as a college graduate.

"I went to UNC up in Greeley for my Bachelor's," she said. "I decided to get my master's at CU Denver, and I graduated last May with a double master's."

As Mercado Ramirez grew up, she helped her parents, who spoke Spanish, understand the world around them.

"I come from a background where I saw my parents struggle... them not knowing the language," she said. "Me being that person for them, always their protector."

Little did Mercado Ramirez know that those skills would prepare her to be one of the backbones of the legal clinics organized by the city. She helps coordinate a large group of volunteers, translators and attorneys in an effort to help newcomers get work permits and support themselves financially.

"I was able to do that for them, and become that bridge and liaison for them," she said.

Now, Denver is planning to shift it's legal clinic offerings.

In the coming months, it will offer support for asylum applications — a legal process with a strict deadline.

"You have to file that claim within a year of coming to the United States," Denver City Attorney Kerry Tipper said.

The clinics will once again need more volunteers, attorneys and paralegals.

"Then, importantly, individuals that are bilingual," Tipper said.

Mercado Ramirez said communication isn't only about words. It's about the compassion behind them.

"It's not just about being able to speak Spanish, and just to translate," she said. "It's understanding that, you know, these newcomers are coming from a very different system."

Mercado Ramirez understands that the immigrants don't just need legal support. They often need emotional support as well.

"The best thing I could think of to ease... their minds and their hearts is was giving them my story," she said.

Mercado Ramirez said she sees hope in the eyes of immigrant new arrivals when she tells them she recently became a citizen herself.

"I became a citizen in February of 2020, right before the pandemic started," she said. "For me, that was one of the biggest privileges I had was to share my story with them and be that beacon of hope."

This woman is a key player in Denver's immigration response. Here's her story

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