Colorado pledges to protect DACA students

Colorado’s legislators circled the wagons around the state’s undocumented youth after the Trump administration made moves to end their semi-legal status on Sept. 5.

Colorado state rep. Leslie Herod champions DACA and the DREAMers present at a press conference over the future of DACA in Colorado. The program is under review by the Trump administration, with many expecting it to be cancelled. Photos by Esteban Fernandez |

At a press conference held Sept. 1, Gov. John Hickenlooper, state House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran and state Rep. Dan Pabon said Colorado would do everything it could to protect those immigrants from deportation and allow them to continue pursuing their dreams and education. In a reversal, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner also announced that he would join Sen. Michael Bennet in supporting the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would shield those immigrants from deportation while creating a pathway to citizenship.

“Deferred Action was more than just a work permit. It was an avenue for me and others like myself to get another opportunity,” said Dreamer Salvador Hernandez. “

It was a step out of the shadows, realizing what it’s like to live without fear. It felt good. And I’m not going back to that.”

Now that the executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has been overturned, Colorado lawmakers are moving to bring the matter before congress. Gardner declared his support for the DREAM act after Trump’s announcement. Rep. Mike Coffman and Bennet already support creating a path to citizenship for Dreamers.

“We’re going to do everything we can to protect DREAMers, but it’s really important that at the federal level we have leaders who will put politics aside and put people first to come up with comprehensive immigration reform,” Duran said.

President Barack Obama brought undocumented immigrants who were crossed into the U.S. as children by their parents out of the shadows in 2012 by issuing DACA. The program allowed those minors, now college age students, to apply for two year permits to remain the U.S. Those who were accepted under the program receive social security numbers, allowing recipients to work in the country as well as pay both income and payroll taxes.

MSU Denver has around 400 undocumented students who attend either under DACA, Colorado Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow, or both. ASSET allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates as well as qualify for the Colorado Opportunity Fund.

Juan Gallegos, director of civic engagement and legal services at the Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition, flashes his DACA permit during a press conference regarding the fate of DACA at the state capitol building on Sept. 1. The work permit granted by DACA allowed Gallegos to move beyond working in the fields to applying his university degree as a legal advocate.

DACA ends in six months time. That window was set by the Trump administration to give Congress time to come up with a replacement. For students on campus however, the possibility of congressional action isn’t enough to allay the gut punch many felt with the announcement.

“We feel like there is no hope, we feel like a door has just been shut down in our faces and there is no other way out,” said Alejandro Fuentes, a DACA beneficiary and fifth grade teacher at Denver Public Schools during a rally in support of DACA students. However, he urged other DACA beneficiaries to not lose hope.

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