As Government Shutdown Looms, Colorado Immigrants Push for "Clean" DREAM Act

DACA recipients and supporters inside U.S. Representative Mike Coffman's office during a demonstration in September 2017.
DACA recipients and supporters inside U.S. Representative Mike Coffman's office during a demonstration in September 2017. Brandon Marshall
Keeping track of where negotiations stand around DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, designed to protect more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children — could almost become a full-time job these days.

The program, which the Trump administration rescinded in September, doesn’t fully expire until March. But because DACA has become tied to a government spending bill, which must happen by the end of the day Friday to avoid a government shutdown, the status of so-called DREAMers is now the center of attention in Washington, D.C.

It’s been a twisting, turning saga fit for an epic by Homer, with legal battles stemming from a surprise ruling by a federal judge in California and negotiations between Republicans and Democrats that seemed fruitful until they were torpedoed by Trump's comment about “shithole countries.”

Late Wednesday, Colorado senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet were still on board for a bipartisan bill that would reinstate protections for DREAMers as long as the federal government appropriated $2.705 billion for border security (including Trump's wall). As things stand, negotiations look like they’ll continue right down to the wire.

On the sidelines of the political infighting, Colorado’s immigrant-rights advocates are still calling for a “clean” DREAM act — one that’s not tied to a complicated spending bill and focuses just on DACA recipients and a pathway to citizenship.

Those calls were issued late Wednesday simultaneously in Colorado and Washington, D.C., where a delegation of Colorado DACA recipients has been pounding congressional doors for the past week, trying to get whoever will listen to hear their stories. Below is a Facebook Live the delegation made on Wednesday:

In Denver, dozens of demonstrators gathered in Benedict Fountain Park on Wednesday evening. Their chants and speeches rang through the frigid air.

“Undocumented, unafraid!”

“Undocumented, unafraid!”

Surrounded by supporters from immigrant rights advocacy groups, including the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Mi Familia Vota and American Friends Service Committee, DACA recipients voiced their stories — as well as their fears for their future.

A young woman named Brisa talked about how she was brought to the United States from Mexico when she was five years old.

“I think of how my life would change if a clean DREAM Act were to pass,” she said. “I would have access to the same opportunities as my peers. I would be able to use my education fully and travel. This is our home. This country is our home. ... We’re human beings, and we need to have the same opportunities as other people.”

Another DREAMer named Marvin gave even more detail about what DACA means for him:

“I’m a twenty-year-old Salvadoran that was granted DACA by President Obama. Since my arrival in this country, I’ve done nothing but reach my full potential,” he began.

“I want you to close your eyes and picture an eight-year-old Latino boy. He’s just starting to realize who he is and how his world revolves around his mother. This little boy and his mother live in one of the most violent countries, due to the fact that local gangs essentially run [El Salvador]. The mother knows very well that if she doesn’t flee the country, her most precious little boy won’t live to see his twenties. In search for a brighter future, she packs all of their belongings into a moderately sized backpack.

"Twelve years later, this little boy is not so little anymore. He has spent the majority of his life in this country. He quickly learned English, made friends, and more importantly, felt safe here. However, since he wasn’t born here, he has no rights to health insurance, can’t legally work, can’t apply for scholarships to pursue his dream, which is to have a college diploma just to make his mother proud.

"Now the current president wants him out…The saddest part of this is, just like this little boy, there are thousands like him out there. The reason I stand before you is because I AM this little boy, and I need your help.”

Following his speech, there were more chants, and some demonstrators held signs with Gardner’s and Bennett’s phone numbers so that people could call and demand a clean DREAM act — separate from all the politics and funding debates around border security.

The procession marched from the park to Gardner’s office in Denver.

Whether their message was heard in Washington, D.C., will become apparent soon enough.
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker