In a little over a month, three-quarters of a million people like Denver’s LaLo Montoya, an undocumented resident, could be thrown back into the shadows if the Trump administration aggressively expands deportations.
Montoya’s crime? Being brought to the United States by his parents when he was two. In the 28 years since, he’s been a model citizen: graduating from North High School, attending the Community College of Denver, raising a now-eight-year-old daughter, advocating for immigrant rights, founding start-up companies, and today working at FWD.us, a website that mobilizes "the tech community to support policies that keep the American Dream achievable in the 21st century."
But Montoya realizes that everything he’s worked so hard for over the past decade could come crashing down on September 5 or even sooner, if the Trump administration goes back on the president's promise to “show great heart” in dealing with the DACA program — or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Montoya not only is a DACA recipient — meaning he’s registered with and has been fingerprinted by the federal government and stayed out of trouble with the law, allowing him to study and work in the U.S. legally — but he also risked his status to advocate for the program, put in place by an executive order from President Barack Obama in 2012.
“In 2012, I was part of a group of students who took over President Obama’s [campaign office in Denver] and demanded that he pass DACA and end unjust deportations,” Montoya says.
While Trump initially indicated he’d let DACA continue — in fact, renewing approximately 200,000 DACA applications since January 20 — both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, who’s now White House chief of staff, have questioned the constitutionality of DACA, casting doubt on whether they’ll defend it in court.
Ten Republican attorneys general and a Republican governor have threatened to sue the federal government to force a repeal of DACA, with a September 5 deadline for the Trump administration to decide whether it will then defend the program in federal court. If it does not, more than 750,000 DACA recipients, including an estimated 18,000 in Colorado, will lose protections from deportation and possibly be fired from their jobs.
“The DREAMers like me who have lived here from toddler age and have gone to school here, worked here, raised our families here... this is a very real threat in the next fifty days,” Montoya says. “What that means for me personally, it means that my daughter — at eight years old — will be fearful that she could grow up without her dad here in the U.S. It could break up my family personally, and many other families.”
Sessions refuses to promise that DACA recipients won’t be deported, and during his confirmation hearings, he dodged bipartisan questions about the human toll of sending people back to countries where they may no longer know anyone and possibly don’t speak the language — essentially ejecting people who know no other country.
Montoya takes it a step further, wondering about the potential economic implications.
“Contributors to society will not be able to contribute...and it would affect not just the beneficiaries of DACA, but it’s also going to impact companies, schools and hospitals that employ us,” Montoya says.
This week, Trump threw his support behind the RAISE Act. Sponsored by Republican senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, of Arkansas and Georgia, respectively, the legislation would reduce legal immigration by 50 percent over ten years and make it a more merit-based system, with priority given to high-earning English-speakers.
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Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat, joined some Republicans (but not Colorado Senator Cory Gardner) in blasting that plan: “Reducing legal immigration will not fix our broken system,” Bennet tweeted. “Need real solutions consistent with our values and that strengthen our economy.”
DACA is a bipartisan issue that pits more moderate voices in the GOP against the hardliners, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Colorado Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is not one of the ten Republican attorneys general targeting the program.
In fact, Coffman's estranged husband, Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman, and sixteen other Republicans are co-sponsoring the Recognizing America’s Children Act (or RAC Act), which would "authorize the cancellation of removal and adjustment of status of certain aliens who are long-term United States residents and who entered the United States as children, and for other purposes."
“It's so important to recognize that young people who were brought here as children, who grew up here, went to school here, and who often know of no other country, be allowed to legally remain in the United States,” Coffman said in a press release.