Immigrant advocate takes nontraditional path to graduation
As the ACLU’s immigration-campaign coordinator, Ana Temu Otting brings a unique perspective to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.
Ana Temu Otting fears every day that she will be separated from her parents. While Temu Otting was born in Los Angeles, her father was an economic refugee from Mexico and her mother escaped the genocide of the Guatemalan civil war, both immigrating to the U.S.
“I was raised seeing all of the hardships my parents had to go through as people without any (legal immigration) status,” said Temu Otting, who serves on the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and will soon graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver. “My mom was diagnosed as HIV-positive when I was 4 years old, and I watched her struggle to get the medications she needed to live.”
This early exposure to the hardships of immigration led her to a life of activism that started in high school. “I saw how hard it was to obtain a higher education,” Temu Otting said, “not just for me with no financial resources but also for (others) who didn’t have access to financial aid. I saw some of my peers not be able to qualify because they didn’t have Social Security numbers.”
Her activism led Temu Otting to major in Political Science to prepare for a career in politics to address issues around immigration. She was active in the 2009 Comprehensive Immigration Reform and DREAM Act. She has since volunteered or worked on several pro-immigrant bills such as those that resulted in driver’s licenses for all, repeal of the “show me your papers” law and the Immigrant Legal Defense Fund.
She started at MSU Denver in 2012 and attended for three years, completing all required courses. While at the University, she also became active in student government and immigration advocacy. She was instrumental in establishing a third-tier tuition rate at MSU Denver for undocumented students before the passage of ASSET (Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow), which allows eligible undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.
In 2015, with one semester left until graduation, she was offered a position on the advance team for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. She knew it was something she couldn’t decline, so she made the difficult decision to leave MSU Denver just short of her degree.
“After that, I was offered many great positions and political opportunities that I couldn’t pass up,” Temu Otting said. One of those opportunities was working on Jared Polis’ gubernatorial campaign. Polis won and tapped Temu Otting to serve on the Colorado Commission on Higher Education through July 1, 2025.
While working on Polis’ campaign, she was offered a position as the immigration-campaign coordinator at the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, a job she said fulfills her life’s mission.
As the ACLU’s immigration-campaign coordinator, Temu Otting leads several of the organization’s immigration campaigns, making sure they are improving the lives of immigrants. Her work also includes making sure ACLU members are aware of their constitutional rights and engaged with organizations across the state.
“There is still a lot to be done for immigrants and their families,” said Temu Otting. “Until my family can live without any fear of being separated, there is work for me to do, and I am committed to the change.”
She also got married and had a son during her hiatus from MSU Denver. She said she realized in 2021 that she wanted to go back and finish her last few classes for her degree.
“I equate a bachelor’s degree to a driver’s license,” said Otting. “You’re going to need it at one point or another.” So she started by taking two classes in last fall while she was pregnant. Now, she’s one class away from graduating with a double major in Political Science and Anthropology and will walk at Commencement ceremonies this spring.
She says being from a poor background living paycheck-to-paycheck and her zigzag college career give her a unique perspective for her role on the Commission on Higher Education.
“I think my life coming from immigrant parents and, really, being a brown woman helps me to give perspective to the commission,” she said.
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Temu Otting has been impressed with the Department of Higher Education’s commitment to finding solutions to problems that students encounter while pursuing their degrees.
She has a lot on her plate but feels she is at a special moment in her life where she’s absorbing all the knowledge she can. Next on her already-full schedule? She thinks she’ll either run for office or start a business. When House District 33 Rep. Matt Gray announced in April he would not seek reelection in the June Democratic primary, Temu Otting asked the vacancy committee to consider her as Gray’s replacement on the ballot. The committee ultimately decided on Broomfield City Councilmember William Lindstedt, but it’s likely not the last time we’ll see Temu Otting’s name in Democratic circles.
Her advice to other nontraditional students: “Take it at your own pace. Don’t stigmatize or internalize any doubt you have about completing a degree at your own pace. Just do it.”