Local officials offer support for ‘Dreamers’
In the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision Tuesday to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Mesa County’s top education officials reacted with a simple message — this doesn’t change anything.
Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster released a statement Tuesday that focused on schools and campuses as places of diversity, inclusion and safety.
DACA, which was enacted in 2012 by former President Barack Obama, offers legal protection to nearly 800,000 people who are undocumented immigrants and who came to the United States as children.
Trump’s order, which cited the need for legislative immigration reform, will end the program on March 5.
Foster said Colorado Mesa will continue to welcome undocumented students on campus and admit students regardless of immigration status.
“As the leaders of CMU, we cherish all of our students and add our voices urging Congress to quickly find a pathway that will allow current and future undocumented students, all of whom have spent years being educated in the United States, to complete their studies and become valuable community leaders,” Foster said in a statement.
The university will also advocate for DACA recipients on the state and federal level, Foster said.
“It’s important for you to know where we stand – and our message to the DACA recipients in our community is simple. We stand with you,” he said.
Hundreds of Western Slope participants in the Deferred Action program were “obviously frightened and concerned” about the Trump administration’s plans to dismantle it, said one Grand Junction woman who works with them.
“They’re afraid also that the information they provided about their addresses and places of employment will now be used somehow against them,” said Nicole Bernal Ruiz, program director for the Hispanic Affairs Project in Grand Junction.
Tuesday’s announcement led to an emotional day for those affected according to local immigration attorneys, who scrambled to field calls and answer emails from fearful clients on Tuesday.
“This is a huge emotional blow for a lot of people who have been working hard to improve their community and their lives,” immigration attorney Jennifer Smith said from her office in Glenwood Springs. “The immediate thing is fear, frustration, anger and sadness.”
Smith said her office has filed thousands of requests for DACA since it was enacted in 2012 and everyone in her office has spent the day talking to those clients who have questions about renewals and pending applications and are unsure of their status going forward.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the change on Monday, which includes a six-month grace period giving Congress a window in which to act.
That six-month period gave some comfort to some who are affected, Ruiz said, “but it’s also kicking the can down the road.”
Congress should have a role, Ruiz said, while noting that legislation concerning people brought illegally into the United States by their parents has previously been introduced “and hasn’t passed, so I’m concerned.”
“The mood for us (today) is sadness and the wish for us is that Congress gets its act together and comes forward with support for the DREAM Act,” Grand Junction immigration attorney Imelda Mulholland said Tuesday. “It’s been a frustrating day, but not as frustrating for the people going through it.”
Smith said that any application for the program that was already filed should receive consideration and those who are scheduled to renew their DACA status before the program sunsets on March 5 need to have their forms in the hands of officials by Oct. 5.
The Hispanic Affairs Project is planning emergency information sessions for participants in the deferred-action program to offer guidance “and give people space to express their frustration and disappointment.”
The project also will begin its work for passage of a DREAM Act and other forms of immigration reform, Ruiz said.
School District 51 is also impacted by Tuesday’s decision, and spokeswoman Emily Shockley said in a statement that the district is seeking more information about the changes to DACA.
“The end of DACA has raised a lot of questions for families across the U.S., including families with children in public schools,” Shockley said. “We are studying the changes announced today and will continue to track updates as they unfold over the next six months. As educators, our focus is helping children learn, grow, and succeed, and that will remain our focus.”