All Terrance Carroll ever wanted was a chance. After escaping the mean streets of Washington, D.C., and heading west as a young man, he overcame childhood trauma to ascend to the upper echelons of Colorado politics. Now, as the first black speaker of the House, Carroll's goal is to give all Coloradans something he had to fight for—the opportunity to succeed.
Four of the five men on the dais at the University of Denver's Gates Concert Hall look like they belong. They're the kind of middle-aged white men who appear on television all the time, the kind who neatly part their hair, wear ties that don't quite match their jackets, and almost perpetually ask for your vote. It's January 2006, and they've been chosen by 9News to speak at a televised town hall panel about immigration. Governor Bill Owens sits dead center. To the left are Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo. On the right is former Governor Dick Lamm.
The fifth man, sitting to the right of Owens, is Terrance Carroll, a black, 38-year-old state representative from northeast Denver. Although Carroll has served in the Statehouse for three years, working on education and criminal justice reform, he looks out of his league alongside these veteran politicians.
Carroll, it turns out, wasn't 9News' first choice; the station had asked Colorado's more high-profile Democratic legislators to participate. The lot of them—Diana DeGette, Mark Udall, John and Ken Salazar—all cited scheduling conflicts, leaving it to the young Carroll to help argue the progressive side of the issue.
Tancredo, stretched out in his chair, calmly begins by explaining that the law of the land is being broken, plain and simple. Hickenlooper follows with a bit about the need for smart reform, and Owens echoes Tancredo, calling for enforcement first.
Carroll's opening statement pours out of him in a wavering voice, his shoulders clenched around the words. Yes, he says, our immigration system is broken, but the nation and Colorado still must confront the demand for low-skill, low-wage workers, the lack of native-born citizens who are willing to fill the jobs, and our inflexible labor laws. "Most importantly," he says, restricting immigration is "a direct challenge to the moral, cultural, and social fiber of this nation and of this state."
Later in the evening, once the floor has been opened to questions, an audience member asks what role faith should play in the immigration debate. Tancredo, an evangelical Presbyterian, says, "I believe that I have a responsibility both to the oath of office I take and to my conscience.... That's my job, and that's what I need to do, and that's what I have to do to face my Maker. And I'm comfortable with that.... But nowhere in the Bible can you find me anything that says, 'Protect the people who've violated the law of your land by coming in.' "
Carroll, who happens to be a Baptist minister, excitedly raises his hand. "Can I respond to that?" he asks. "Leviticus 19:33 and 34 clearly state that the strangers who live among your land, do not mistreat them, do not oppress them. Treat them as if they are citizens and native born of your land."
The audience erupts with cheers. Hickenlooper and Owens laugh out loud at the young upstart's sudden outburst. "And then it goes on to say, 'You were aliens in Egypt, so love them as you love yourself,'" Carroll continues. "So there's a very clear biblical mandate for how we deal with the strangers among us that goes beyond women and children. What it does say—without making the distinction between illegal and legal aliens—it says treat them as if they're native born. If you're going to use the Scriptures as a basis, you have to seriously deal with the issue and address it and not work your way around it."