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Local DREAMers prepare for the end of DACA

By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff

The battle over the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which came to a head on Sept. 5 when President Donald Trump announced he would end the program in six months, has barely begun, according to published national reports and comments by local immigration advocates in the Roaring Fork Valley region.

In fact, Colorado immigration activists have scheduled a statewide DACA registration drive for Sept. 16 at the Glenwood Springs High School, starting at 1 p.m., to help current DACA recipients whose documentation will expire on or before March 5, 2018 — shortly before the deadline Trump has given for shutting down the DACA program.

Starting almost immediately after Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement, leaders from both parties, government officials at various levels, educational institutions and corporations stepped up to offer protection for the roughly 800,000 DACA recipients, known as DREAMers, around the country.

And the DREAMers themselves are ready to take the fight to the streets, to the ballot, and to Congress, according to one young man who spoke to The Sopris Sun.

“We were dormant, I guess, but now we’re coming back,” said Junior Ortega, a DACA recipient, referring to a period when DREAMers felt relatively unthreatened while President Barack Obama was in office.

But since President Trump made his announcement, said Ortega, “We’re ready to make some noise.”

The DACA recipients are young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children by their parents, who typically were immigrating illegally. Even though these children grew up in the U.S., and knew little if anything about life in their native countries, they all face deportation as illegal aliens.

Starting in 2001, Congress has failed three times to pass legislation, known as the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, to protect these child immigrants from deportation by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2012 creating DACA in the hope that Congress would soon formalize the program through legislation. That did not happen, and President Trump made the cancellation of DACA one of his key campaign pledges during the 2016 presidential race, part of his broader intention to undo much of what President Obama did during Obama’s two terms in office.

Congressional Democrats, including Colorado Senators Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, who in 2013 reportedly was an opponent of Obama’s DACA program, on Sept. 5 announced their support for legislation called the DREAM Act 2017, to signal that the new act is following on the previous attempts to pass such legislation.

In the week since the DACA announcement, there has been considerable confusion about exactly what President Trump has in mind for the coming six months, and about how immigration officials might act on the president’s order. Even the president has indicated he might “revisit” his decision in six months, if it appears that the U.S. Congress cannot find a legislative way to either create a new, similar program or provide a legal foundation for the DACA program itself to stand on.

Local effects

The Sopris Sun, two days after the Trump announcement, spoke with Ortega and another DACA work permit recipient, who both said they will work toward a legislative solution by supporting the Dream Act 2017, among other efforts.

Ortega, 25, splits his time between Rifle and Carbondale and works in Glenwood Springs as a heavy equipment operator at the city landfill.

Anahi Araiza, 23, works in Basalt and was previously employed by Colorado Mountain College as an “outreach coordinator” traveling around the college district. She said she worked with undocumented students, “trying to get them on a pathway to college, so that they would make that connection from high school,” working mainly with recipients of scholarships from Alpine Bank.

Ortega came to the U.S. at age six, from Nayarit, a state on the west coast of Mexico just north of the resort town of Puerto Vallarta. And Puerto Vallarta, which is in Jalisco state, happens to be where Araiza’s family lived until they brought her to the U.S. at the age of two.

The two of them applied for DACA in 2012, shortly after Obama created it, and for both it took six months to receive final approval and get a work permit linked to his TIN, or tax identification number.

“All immigrants have a TIN,” he explained, “that’s how they pay their taxes.” He noted that, even though immigrants pay taxes to the government, they are not eligible for federal benefits such as social security, Medicare or Medicaid.

Under DACA, he said, he also received a Social Security number, but if DACA is ended he will lose his job, his social security number, his driver’s license.

“I’d lose my income, the way to keep myself stable in the valley,” he said. “I’d go back to the shadows (as an illegal immigrant), I wouldn’t know what to do.”

Araiza concurred, pointing out that she cannot hold a TIN and a Social Security number at the same time under federal law. And even though, if DACA ends, she will keep her Social Security number, she added, it will be nearly useless because it, alone, is not proof that she is in the country illegally.

If she presents her social security card to hunt for a job or obtain a driver’s license, for example, those she contacts will ask for such proof.

“DACA is our proof” of being here legally, she concluded, so if DACA ends, so does their status as legal residents.

If DACA is ended, both Araiza and Ortega said they would try to stay in the U.S. rather than return to an area of Mexico that they said is plagued by gang violence and other criminal activity at a level far greater than anything they have encountered in this country.

Immigrant advocacy

The Colorado Immigrant Right Coalition (CIRC), is made up of member groups that work on immigration issues, such as the AYUA (Association of Youth United in Action) group that both Ortega and Araiza have been associated with for several years.

Sophia Clark, a U.S. citizen who grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley region, has been working with CIRC for about six years (four as a volunteer) since becoming aware of immigration issues in college.

She lauded the state and some communities such as Carbondale that have publicly stated that local police will not help ICE hunt up or detain immigrants.

“Colorado has actually really done a lot in the past couple of years to separate police from ICE, she said.

Aside from the DACA registration drive this Saturday in Glenwood Springs, Clark said, CIRC is planning to step up its “civic engagement” activities with voter registration drives and voter turnout efforts on election days.

“That’s going to be a huge focus” of CIRC’s activities in the coming months, she explained, as the organization works to convince members of Congress to pass the DREAM Act 2017 prior to next March.

The group’s current targeted lobbying effort, she said, is aimed directly at U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), who represents the 3rd Congressional District that covers most of the Western Slope.

Clark said that CIRC representatives are hoping for a meeting with Tipton when he appears in Glenwood Springs on Sept. 18 for a meeting with local business people.