Five days into his presidency, Donald Trump told ABC News's David Muir that DREAMers — young undocumented immigrants who are currently protected under a provision enacted by President Obama called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — needn't worry about deportation under the new administration.
“They shouldn't be very worried. They are here illegally. They shouldn't be very worried. I do have a big heart. We're going to take care of everybody,” said Trump during the ABC interview on January 25.
But in the five months since that interview, multiple DACA recipients have been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including Daniel Ramirez, a 23-year-old DREAMer from Washington state who is suing ICE and the Department of Homeland Security in a high-profile case over his arrest.
This week, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, who represents Colorado's first district, met with DACA recipients in Denver at a press conference today, May 10, and heard their concerns.
"What I've been hearing this week in our community is that our young people are concerned about what's happening since the election of Donald Trump," she said. "And they're worried that at any moment, their parents, or even they themselves, could be deported."
DeGette was joined at the conference by DACA recipients Marissa Molina and Salvador Hernandez.
Molina was brought into the United States at age nine and currently works for a school in Denver. "The reason I came here today and continue to advocate for this is because not only am I a DACA recipient, but I work with students and families for whom these are really tough times," she said. "We must continue to fight and share our stories so that more people in this country see the true face of immigration, and so that we're not seen as illegals or as criminals or as aliens, but as real human beings with hopes and dreams."
Molina and Hernandez spoke in favor of the BRIDGE Act ("Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream of Growing Our Economy”), for which DeGette is a co-sponsor in the House of Representatives. The proposed legislation would extend the protections of the DACA program, which was originally enacted by President Obama in August 2012 through executive order.
DeGette said that she and other lawmakers are trying to build enough of a bipartisan coalition around the BRIDGE Act for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to allow the bill to be heard on the House floor.
"What we decided was that, with the BRIDGE Act, we want to have an equal number of Democrats and Republicans [sponsoring it],” explained DeGette. "We could probably have over 180 Democrats co-sponsor the bill, but we really think it's important to have an equal number of Republicans.
"I believe that if this bill were brought to the floor, it would pass. But the question is getting Speaker Ryan to bring legislation like this to the floor,” she continued.
Asked by Westword whether she thought a floor hearing was possible before the 2018 midterm elections, DeGette responded, "I would hope so."
The congresswoman stressed the importance of passing comprehensive immigration reform and characterized the BRIDGE Act as an intermediary step toward that end.
"We can't sustain this level of having 11 million people who are here [in this country] on an undocumented status,” said DeGette. “We can keep trying to say that Denver is going to try to keep you safe; we can keep trying to tell ICE to respect policies of making sure that schools, churches and hospitals are sanctuary areas and people will be safe. But really, that's just nibbling around the edges; we've got to have comprehensive immigration reform.
"When you don't have comprehensive immigration reform, then what happens is that it frequently falls to individual ICE offices or even to individual ICE agents as to how they're going to enforce laws,” she continued. “So it's allowing for so much discretion, and creating a system where there is unequal enforcement of the laws, which is leading to a lot of worry and concern about what's going to happen day to day."
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DeGette said that she's been in communication with both the local ICE field office in Centennial as well as the national ICE headquarters about stories she's heard about enforcement activities in Colorado, including the planned arrest of Jeanette Vizguerra, who has taken sanctuary at the First Unitarian Society in Denver.
"What I've asked the advocacy community and immigrants is to give us concrete stories when they hear these things are happening so that we can follow through,” she said.
Hernandez was brought into the U.S. when he was fifteen.
"I'm currently in this fight because what we're asking is not too much," he told reporters on Wednesday. "We just want to be able to live in this country without fearing that our mothers aren't going to be home when we arrive from school or work. We're demanding some basic dignity and opportunities to have a better life, and that's what any parent would seek for their children.”