The names of the local DACA recipients are not published due to the sensitive nature of their stories, and because these recipients are affected by the recession of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Executive Order.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order (“DACA”) implemented by President Barack Obama in 2012 finds itself in the center of controversy following the election of President Donald J. Trump. DACA paved the way for undocumented youth, known as Dreamers, to obtain work permits, attend school and obtain driver’s licenses in some states.
To be eligible for DACA, a recipient had to meet specific criteria, including age requirements and no criminal history. While DACA was not a pathway to citizenship, it did allow the recipient to apply for a two-year renewable permit. To date, there are approximately 800,000 DACA recipients in the United States according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
After the November 2016 election and based on his campaign promises, President Trump faced increasing political pressure to address DACA. In June 2017, ten states’ attorneys general sent President Trump an ultimatum demanding that he wind down DACA and any renewals by Sept. 5, 2017.
Should Mr. Trump not comply by the deadline, the attorneys general planned to amend an existing lawsuit in Texas district court challenging certain aspects of DACA to include a challenge to the entire DACA program. The amendment would force the Trump administration to defend DACA in federal court. The attorneys’ general position was that Obama’s executive order was procedurally flawed and did not comply with the Constitution, resulting in illegal amnesty for the group of 800,000 Dreamers.
In response, 20 state attorneys general sent Mr. Trump a letter arguing that the executive order was properly enacted. In addition, they pointed to the economic benefits and contributions the Dreamers bring to the national and local economies.
On September 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on behalf of the Trump administration, announced that DACA would begin a six-month wind-down phase. However, during the impending six-months, President Trump advised Congress to work together to find a solution instead of the DACA phase out.
By applying for DACA, the Dreamers were admitting to the United States government officials that he or she was here illegally. However, according to Steamboat Springs, Colorado immigration attorney Elizabeth Wittemyer, the agreement between the government and the DACA applicant was that if the applicant provided the requisite information and met the DACA criteria, the government would refrain from using the application information against them. That includes refraining from placing the applicant in deportation proceedings for admittedly being in the United States illegally.
“What has become really problematic with all of this is these kids applied for DACA on the understanding that the information they were releasing was not going to be used against them,” said Wittemyer. “It was something that President Obama promised as part of this program that unless they were disclosing some kind of crime beyond that they were here in an unlawful status,” she said.
Wittemyer noted with the current state of DACA in flux, the DACA recipients and their family members are now at risk for enforcement actions, including deportation proceedings.
“You have to write down all of your family members’ information, so the fact that you are writing down your parents are here illegally was not to be used against the kids applying or the parents,” she said. “That has changed. Now we are seeing enforcement actions against everybody that has been disclosed in these applications. So they not only gave themselves up, they gave up their families, based on what now has turned out to be a promise that President Trump was unwilling to honor,” said Wittemyer.
Integrated Community in Routt County, Colorado is a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting immigrants in the community. Until the recent decision by the Trump administration placing the fate of DACA in question, Sheila Henderson, Executive Director of Integrated Community, assisted those who wanted to apply for DACA for the first time or were going through the renewal process.
“We’ve helped approximately 200 young adults in this area, and that’s northwest Colorado. Some are from Steamboat, some are from Craig, maybe even a few from Meeker and Silverthorne,” said Henderson.
Henderson said she stays in touch with the local DACA applicants, some of whom have gotten married, some work in the community and others went to college with scholarships.
“If something changes it is going to really affect our community because these kids are truly bilingual, truly bicultural and they are taking a lot of the mid-level positions in the community because they can speak both languages,” said Henderson. They are supervisors within the management companies, they work in human services, they work for us, they are some of our best professional interpreters because their language skills are phenomenal,” she said.
One 23-year-old DACA recipient has lived in Steamboat Springs, Colorado since around 2009. He was the first recipient to receive a DACA permit in Routt County, Colorado.
“Honestly I was a little skeptical at first. All the paperwork you have to get is a little challenging because you have to look for so much and prove that you were here in the United States for so long. But I mean once you got that done, it’s a little easier, especially with the help of Sheila [Henderson]. But at the same time, I knew that maybe in the future, now that I got all my information, they know I’m not legal stuff like that,” he said.
He said his motivation to apply for DACA was the work permit.
“I realized that if I didn’t have a working permit, I wasn’t going to be able to work, so it was kind of like either this or what are we doing here in the United States, even though we’ve been here for so long. So, it was kind of no other choice if I really wanted to work, if I wanted to make more money,” he said.
Another recipient just turned 21 years old and has lived in Steamboat Springs, Colorado for 13 years. She is a DACA recipient and has renewed her permit one time. She said the DACA permit has given her job opportunities. She works two jobs and wants to attend college to become a bilingual nurse.
“I have a good job. I feel like I can just present my own paperwork and I don’t have to go to Denver and get some other stuff that isn’t right,” she said.
Another local DACA recipient is 22 years old and has lived half of her life in Chihuahua, Mexico and the other half in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She initially received her DACA permit in 2012. She is now employed at a local apartment complex in a management position. She is also working on her college degree in property management through an online college program. She said she recently applied for her third renewal. She said DACA has given her career and education opportunities.
“I can get a driver’s license. I can get a better job as I have now. I took some classes at the college, at CMC [Colorado Mountain College], it was a lot of doors that opened once I got my DACA. I’m working in property management, I’m taking some classes for property management so I can be in this career so I can keep going and going,” she said.
It is worth noting that before the Sept. 5 announcement rescinding DACA, I spoke to several other local DACA recipients who agreed to speak with me on the record. However, after Sept. 5, I received no further responses after reaching out to the individuals several times.
While all three DACA recipients said they remain optimistic about DACA, the fate of DACA remains as questionable. Since his election, President Trump has changed his position on DACA several times despite campaigning on the promise to end DACA.
Sessions’ Sept. 5 announcement stoked the fires of the DACA debate. Those in support of the administration’s position felt President Trump honored his campaign promise, and that Obama’s executive order creating DACA overreached his authority. Their position was that the Dreamers were here illegally and should not get carve-out treatment from the government.
Those opposed to the announcement said the Trump administration breached an agreement between the government and the Dreamers. The opposition stated that the Dreamers were here through no fault of their own, having come up at young ages and knowing no other country as home. Deportation to a country they never knew was cruel and senseless, given that the Dreamers are contributing members to the economy and their communities, holding positions such as teachers, healthcare practitioners, lawyers, and military personnel.
“We are closing off a large part of the economic benefit that comes from these kids. Some of the biggest companies in our country were actually started and founded by immigrants,” said Wittemyer. “By in large, my clients that are here and in undocumented status own businesses, employee people, work, work three jobs. They are incredibly hard-working people, and they want so badly to do everything by the book,” she said.
DACA recipients contribute to the national and local economies by purchasing homes, cars, and other consumer goods. In addition, the taxes they contribute to the economy are higher than average as they are ineligible for federal welfare programs, including cash assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, or health-care tax credits.
In addition to hurting the national and local economies, according to the CATO Institute, rescinding DACA will also significantly hurt employers. The CATO Institute estimated employers would wind up paying approximately $6.3 billion. Employee turnovers, recruiting, hiring and training 720,000 new employees to replace existing DACA employees contribute to the employer’s expenses. The CATO Institute study also showed employers would have to terminate 6,914 DACA employees every week over the next two years, costing $61 million per week.
On Sept. 13, DACA received a soft reprieve when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) met with President Trump and announced that a deal had been reached with respect to DACA that did not include the proposed southern border wall that Trump campaigned on. However, soon after the announcement, President Trump sent a tweet clarifying that no definitive agreement had been reached. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary, in a follow-up tweet to Mr. Trump’s tweet stated, “While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to.”
On Sept. 1, before the Sept. 5 announcement, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), in an interview with radio station WCLO in Janesville Wisconsin, indicated that while he did not think President Trump should end the DACA program, he hopes Congress finds a solution to protect the Dreamers.
“I actually don’t think he should do that,” said Ryan to WCLO’s Tim Bremel. “I believe this is something that Congress should fix,” he said.
Since the Sept. 5 announcement, there has been bipartisan support for working to find solutions to protect the DACA recipients. The resolution remains elusive, however, as each side has different visions on how to resolve the DACA dilemma. To complicate matters further, DACA could be a pawn in the immigration and border protection budget negotiations relative to the funding of President Trump’s wall.
Wittemyer remains hopeful Congress can reach agreement on DACA and overall immigration reform. In the interim, Wittemyer said there is a lot of fear in the local DACA kids: fear of their deportation and status and fear for their family members disclosed as a part of their application process.
According to Wittemyer, the fear is somewhat justified.
“That’s the fear, and I am fairly certain that is what is going to happen unless we get a Dream Act passed. Vast resources are being shoved into ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and deportations – not judges to adjudicate whether people have a right to stay here, just in getting them out,” said Wittemyer. “If you are out looking for people to deport, you are going to pull those DACA applications and look at everyone in that family, not just the kids that are now no longer covered by DACA, but they are going after their parents and siblings,” she said.
Henderson said she is seeing the same fear from Integrated Community DACA clients after Sessions’ Sept. 5 announcement.
“It has been a mix of emotions,” said Henderson. “Some feel positive that it will make it through the legislative process and be better. Most are worried and trying to be positive. Some have lost hope and are depressed, but mostly they are fearing the unknown and feel paralyzed to move forward with their lives,” she said.
Henderson recalls the hope that DACA brought to the Dreamers who were having trouble socially and academically.
“When they did the initial executive order, we saw kids that were hopeless and dropping out of school b/c their whole lives we told them they had all these opportunities – you go to school, you graduate, you can have a college education, you can do anything you want in life, live the American dream. Oh, but by the way, if you aren’t documented, we don’t mean you, right,” said Henderson. “And a lot of kids don’t know it doesn’t mean them until they want their driver’s license and they realize they can’t get a driver’s license, so there was a huge dropout rate because of it,” she said. “People were just losing hope. And so, what this [DACA] did was to create hope and excitement. These kids were running with it and just doing amazing things so to pull that away is bad for our whole society, and it hurts all of us,” said Henderson.
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