A group of Fort Lewis College students and faculty made an impassioned plea for action Tuesday evening after President Donald Trump announced earlier in the day that he plans to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The Durango Defend DACA Rally attracted about 75 people to the FLC Amphitheater and featured speakers from local organizations, including Compañeros, Black Student Union and Durango Peace and Justice Coalition.
“This hits me hard because I have many friends who are part of DACA, and without it, they will not be able to go to school,” said student Tatyana Trujillo. “I’m really emotional about this because it is people’s education that is getting hit hard. As students, I want us to become aware of what is going on. A lot of students do not understand that education is a privilege.”
Despite fears and concerns about ending protections for those brought to the U.S. as children, local reaction is mostly hopeful that it can prompt Congress to pass effective immigration reform laws.
Congress has six months to come up with a legislative solution for about 800,000 young people in the U.S. who receive work permits and protection from deportation through DACA, President Trump’s administration announced Tuesday.
FLC professor Carolina Alonso, originally from Mexico, put her support behind the DREAM Act as a means of taking action.
“I moved to the U.S. when I was 14, and most of the kids and family I grew up with were undocumented,” she said at Tuesday’s rally. “For years, I’ve seen my own undocumented students living in fear. I urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act because these people are all Americans, and they are here to stay.”
The bipartisan legislation would give those who were brought into the country illegally and grew up in the United States the right to earn permanent residence and give them a path to American citizenship.
“Regardless of who we are, we should all stand with the individuals affected by this decision because they are all a part of our community,” said Kaidee Akullo, Black Student Union president.
DACA, created in 2012 as an administrative program, allows those who came to the U.S. as children to apply for a work permit and a Social Security number. It requires participants to reapply every two years.
Danny Quinlan, executive director of Compañeros, the Four Corners Immigrant Resource Center, said DACA is not a path to citizenship.
“It’s all on Congress now. We really want to see them get their act together, step up and do something that is going to benefit 800,000 young people, all of their families and our economies, which depend on having those young people in the workforce,” Quinlan said.
There are about 150 to 200 undocumented people who participate in DACA across the five-county region in Southwest Colorado, he said. An estimated 17,000 people in Colorado are part of the program.
A path to citizenship for DACA participants is a logical place to start for immigration reform because they were brought to the U.S. as children and many didn’t realize their undocumented status until they became adults, Quinlan said.
However, six months isn’t much time to pass legislation, so the announcement sparked fear and uncertainty for DACA participants, he said.
“A lot of young people are just waking up this morning and trying to figure out if they are going to be able to keep their job, if they are going to continue studying, if they are going to have ICE agents knocking on their door,” he said.
If a legislative solution isn’t reached by the deadline, it is not clear how deportations for people who participated in DACA would be handled, he said.
Shirena Trujillo Long, coordinator of El Centro de Muchos Colores at Fort Lewis College, works with DACA participants and found the announcement troubling.
“Six months doesn’t feel like enough time to fix it,” she said Tuesday.
Deporting DACA participants could mean separating families and sending young people who no longer speak their native language back to a place that is foreign to them, she said.
The executive order that created DACA was a blessing, and the recent announcement could take it back after many young people placed their trust in the government, she said.
“A healthy community doesn’t have a population that is in the shadows,” she said.
In 2016, Fort Lewis College President Dene Thomas was one of more than 600 college and university presidents to sign a statement in support of the program and undocumented immigrant students.
The statement read, in part, “To our country’s leaders, we say that DACA should be upheld, continued and expanded. ... This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity. America needs talent – and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community. They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders, they are essential to the future.”
Thomas came to the defense of DACA students in an emailed announcement on Tuesday.
“I want to reiterate my support of this statement and hope that our elected leaders can find a solution that best supports our country now and in the future,” she said.
It is unknown how many Durango School District 9-R students will be affected by the decision to rescind DACA because the district does not track which students are enrolled in the program.
“We’ve always worked to support all children in our school system,” district spokeswoman Julie Popp said.
Rocco Fuschetto, superintendent for Ignacio School District, said the outcome of the decision is a waiting game.
“As far as I know, we don’t have anyone affected by this decision,” he said. “We are going to wait and see what Congress decides.”
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., called the announcement a devastating betrayal and called on Congress to find a solution.
“This decision is the height of cruelty: It’s an attempt to score political points by separating families and disrupting schools and workplaces,” he said in a prepared statement.
Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said President Barack Obama circumvented the U.S. Constitution when he created the DACA program, but he added that Congress should develop a compassionate solution.
“These individuals have grown up in the United States and are now upstanding, valued members of our communities. They should not be punished for a decision that was made by their parents years ago,” he said in a statement.
Colton Black, vice chairman of the La Plata County Republican Central Committee, said the recent announcement would put pressure on both parties to act on permanent comprehensive immigration reform.
“We need to make it a fair and equitable process for everybody around the world,” he said.
Immigrants who illegally crossed the northern or southern border should not be able to skip ahead of those who are waiting to immigrate to the U.S. legally, he said.
Those who came to the U.S. as children are in a difficult situation. Black said he would like to see a path to citizenship for those people as part of a larger legislative package.
But he would like to see clear limitations set on the program. For example, it could apply only to those currently within the DACA program, he said.