Imagine moving to the United States at 2 years old, learning English and attending school, only to find that as you grow older — unlike your peers — you’re unable to obtain a driver’s license, secure a job, go on vacation out of the country or even apply for financial aid to go to college.
That’s only part of the story for so-called “Dreamers” — or recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — as relayed on the campus of Western State Colorado University this past Wednesday. Western, in collaboration with Sustainability Education Equity and Diversity (SEED) and the Coldharbour Institute, hosted an information panel and personal stories from Dreamers for community members curious about DACA.
DACA is an immigration policy started by the Obama administration in June 2012 that allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to receive temporary work authorization and a two-year deferred action from deportation.
However, it’s been nearly eight months since President Donald Trump called for the end of DACA. Since that time, there have been two government shutdowns, numerous lawsuits and significant confusion over the future of the policy.
To begin the event at Western, tamales, chips and salsa, homemade cookies and horchata — a milky drink — were catered by SEED and the Coldharbour Institute. Next, the personal stories of DACA recipients were read aloud to the room — not by the recipients themselves, but by students on their behalf. In light of the fear of deportation, DACA recipients chose to remain anonymous.
Following the personal stories and discussion, a panel consisting of Western professor Karen Hausdoerffer, Vice President of Student Affairs Gary Pierson, attorney Andy Richmond and immigrant advocate Marketa Zubkova took questions from the community.
One such question focused on how DACA affects taxpayers. Is there a negative impact to the nation for accepting dreamers into the system?
“If there is any impact on taxpayers it’s a positive impact,” explained Richmond. “DACA recipients do indeed pay into the tax base, but they get very little out.”
DACA recipients earn the right to work, which also means taxation, explained Richmond. But while the temporary work status requires taxes be paid for programs such as Medicaid or Social Security, it doesn’t allow Dreamers to reap the benefits later in life as United States citizens do.
Another community member wondered why speaking out would risk deportation for DACA recipients.
“If there is someone who is at risk of deportation, even with a DACA permit, then it’s not good for this person to speak out,” said Zubkova. “It’s only a temporary protection and it doesn't guarantee anything.”
The panel also addressed recent concerns over the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in the Gunnison Valley.
Richmond noted that ICE has been present in Gunnison County somewhat consistently for the past four or five years — even last week, when they were picking up someone in Almont.
“Our immigrant community is living in fear, and just hearing something that might not be true or seeing police in uniform may cause a lot of panic,” said Zubkova about how fast rumors travel in a small community.
For example, as word spread about the presence of ICE in Almont, concern over checkpoints resulted in many immigrants feeling as though they couldn’t commute to work up valley, she added.
Richmond offered caution to immigrants with a temporary work status in terms of ICE, explaining some of the tactics used to deport immigrants.
“I have seen ICE come into the courtroom and take immigrants out from the courtroom when they show up to pay a traffic ticket,” said Richmond.
Hausdoerffer, who in addition to teaching at Western also teaches English as a second language at the Center for Adult and Family Education, has observed a shift in the attitudes of immigrants in the Gunnison Valley. Whereas a few years ago, economic opportunity was the main motivator for moving to the states, now the conversation is more about safety in escaping violence abroad, she said.
When it comes to university studies, Western does not track DACA recipients, said Pierson.
“We don't know who is and who isn’t, a lot of that is how we treat all our students. We want to protect the privacy rights of our students,” he explained. “I want to see opportunity regardless of how you ended up in Gunnison.”
(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org .)
WHAT ‘DREAMERS’ ARE SAYING
“I never thought I’d be able to achieve the American Dream, because my parents brought me over as a child, and I was considered an alien to other Americans.”
“I went through a rough time, not caring about my school work, because what was the point if I couldn’t go to college anyways?”