For DACA immigrants, ‘this is their country’

September 7, 2017
In the News

For DACA immigrants, ‘this is their country’

As White House orders an end to DACA, the city, state and nation struggle with solution for undocumented children brought to U.S.

AURORA | President Donald Trump’s decision Tuesday to end an Obama-era program offering temporary relief for undocumented children brought to the United States by their parents was met with opposition on both sides of the partisan divide in Aurora and across Colorado.

After Trump announced the decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, multiple Colorado members of Congress announced efforts to sustain the program.

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner jointly announced the cosponsoring of the Dream Act of 2017, which would grant a pathway to lawful permanent residence to those brought to the United States undocumented as children, provided they meet certain educational goals, pursue higher education or find work and demonstrate proficiency in English and U.S. history.

“The Dream Act offers a promising solution amid a time of uncertainty for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants around the country — especially in light of the President’s decision today to rescind DACA,” Bennet said. “While comprehensive immigration reform should remain a long-term solution, we also need a more immediate fix to protect Dreamers,” the term used for the intended beneficiaries of the Dream Act.

In their joint statement, the senators argued that “allowing Dreamers to continue receiving education and contributing hundreds of billions of dollars to the national GDP” helps the country while giving young immigrants a chance “to reach their full potential.”

In the House, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) responded with an attempt to force a vote on a bill to extend DACA.

Coffman formally filed a discharge petition in hopes of forcing a floor vote in the U.S. House of Representatives for the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy Act, also known as the BRIDGE Act. The Senate previously introduced an identical version of the bill, sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois).

Coffman told the Aurora Sentinel that the bill is intended “to send a message to the Trump administration,” which announced an wind-down of the program enacted via executive order by President Barack Obama and affects nearly 800,000 people nationwide.

The BRIDGE Act would continue the DACA program for three years under the assumption Congress will find a permanent solution by then. Coffman, along with several other Republicans, believes DACA is unconstitutional, but the congressman said his bill addresses legality concerns.

“I believe the president would sign it if we could pass it,” Coffman said. “I believe the president just wants to let (the DACA issue) go, but now he doesn’t have a choice.”

The discharge petition requires 218 signatures — the will of a House majority — to force a vote. Coffman said he believes the maneuver is unique in this particular instance because the petition is typically used by the minority party, “but not by a member of the majority party against the leadership of his own party.”

“My hope is that I’ll certainly have the Democrats on board,” Coffman said, adding that if the bill passes the House he believes it will glide through the Senate.

Levi Tillemann, a Democrat vying for the 6th Congressional District seat held by Coffman, said he applauds what Coffman is doing with the BRIDGE Act, but the legislation comes “a little too late.”

“It’s like calling an ambulance after the crash, rather swerving to avoid the crash in the first place,” Tillemann said.

Tillemann said he’s particularly passionate about DACA because his adopted sister Dulcia was brought to the United States from Honduras as a child.

Jason Crow and David Aarestad, the other two Democratic opponents challenging Coffman, both highlighted how important DACA is, especially to the community of Aurora. But describe Coffman’s BRIDGE Act as belated and dissimilar to his other stances on immigration.

“Over 17,000 DREAMers in Colorado have been left in limbo, in constant fear of having those dreams torn away by an out-of-control Republican Party more interested in scoring political points than in protecting families,” Aarestad said in a statement. “Mixing messages by promising temporary relief through the BRIDGE Act on one hand, while supporting funding for a divisive wall with the other, leaves too many people with the justified concern that this a mirage.”

Crow said Coffman had “years to act on this priority,” but hadn’t until now “to beat the buzzer and run from his record with a gimmick.”

DACA’s effect on Aurora schools

Community College of Aurora President Betsy Oudenhoven said the end of DACA would have a substantial effect on CCA, not only for those students who have fallen under the rule’s protection, but for the entire community.

“DACA allows these students to be fully engaged in their education and their communities. The freedom from fear allows them to make the best use of their intelligence, work ethic, and talent to make the kinds of contributions our society needs from our young people,” Oudenhoven said in an email exchange. “It takes a lot of motivation for these students to pursue a college degree and we don’t want them to lose hope that they too can pursue the American dream.”

That American dream isn’t something that is a foreign concept to those students whose parents brought them to the United States at a young age, Oudenhoven said.

“When we talk about young people who are undocumented, it is important to remember that most of them came here with their families, many when they were very young children,”Oudenhoven said. “This is their country and they consider themselves Americans.They attend K-12 schools and then move on to higher education where they are working hard to achieve their dreams. They want to earn degrees, find jobs, and make positive contributions to their families and their communities.”

Aurora Public Schools passed a resolution this spring essentially declaring APS a ‘sanctuary school district.’ The resolution forbids school employees from divulging information about citizen status and directs the district to be prepared to handle children whose undocumented immigrant parents might have been detained by federal immigration police.

Auroroa Sentinal reporter Ramsey Scott and the Associated Press contributed to this article.