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DACA ruling puts local immigrants in limbo

Gov. Polis has called on Congress to give permanent protection to DACA recipients

Maria Gordillo estimates that her organization has between 55-70 first time Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applicants who have no idea what will happen after a federal appeals court ruled against the immigration policy in October.

On Oct. 5, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared unlawful the policy that offers two-year periods of work permits and protection from deportation for people who were brought to the U.S. as children. While new DACA requests cannot be granted under the most recent ruling, current DACA recipients will continue for now to be recognized as valid, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

With that decision and the ongoing legal threat against DACA, Gov. Jared Polis sent a letter to the U.S. Congress last week urging comprehensive immigration reform and protection for DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers.

For Gordillo, director of community engagement at the Immigrant Legal Center of Boulder County, that means renewals aren’t currently being affected. There are about 500 DACA recipients served by the small nonprofit providing legal assistance to Colorado immigrants.

However, several dozen of their clients applied for DACA for the first time earlier this year and have still not received a response from immigration services.

“These are students who are still high school students, or just graduated high school or are about to graduate high school, and they have no response from the government whatsoever,” Gordillo said. “They never returned the money, either, and it was $500 how much they were paying to apply for the first time.”

This leaves a group of potential DACA recipients with no answer and no guide on what to do next, including roughly 40 living in Boulder County, according to Gordillo.

“It has definitely affected this group of people because they are wanting to work, they are wanting to apply for college,” Gordillo said. “They’re wanting to do the normal life any student does after high school and unfortunately many of them can’t.”

While legal proceedings are still ongoing, a potential Supreme Court decision overruling DACA could strip Dreamers of their work permits and place them on a path to deportation.

Gordillo said those with DACA are anxious to know if their permit will get approved this time around while others are hesitant to travel with Advance Parole, which allows them to travel outside the country and return.

“We don’t want to send someone with advanced parole (out of the country) and then having DACA be canceled while they’re out of the country, and they won’t be able to come back in,” Gordillo explained.

As of March 2020, 14,520 active DACA recipients lived in Colorado, according to Polis’ letter to Congress. As of 2019, only 64% of DACA eligible immigrants in Colorado had applied for the protection.

“... The litigation which has stopped all processing of new applications is harming

Colorado’s economy,” Polis said. “Colorado needs workers to fill the labor shortages that are in our state.”

More than 75% of DACA recipients in the workforce were deemed essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gordillo said that these workers are a huge benefit bringing bilingual language skills and a depth of knowledge in their careers, many of which are in healthcare and education.

“If DACA gets taken away, it would definitely affect a lot of the community because many of them do bring a lot into the community,” she said.

With the legal threat against DACA, Polis asked Congress to implement permanent protections for Dreamers.

“I call on Congress, without further delay during this lame duck session, to enact legislation that provides permanent solutions for Dreamers and immigrant youth,” he said. “I stand in solidarity with immigrant communities and vow to continue supporting all immigrants living in our cities and counties and to continue to make Colorado a Colorado for all. The time to act is now.”

After the Oct. 5 ruling by the 5th Circuit, the lower court will analyze the latest rule implemented by the Biden administration in an effort to save the program from future legal challenges. A decision is expected later this month or early next year.

“That’s very terrifying to think about because that's a couple weeks away,” Gordillo said. “It’s kind of terrifying to think how many people are going to be left without work cards or even being able to provide for their families because (of) the political game happening in Washington, D.C. We are really hoping that they come together and make something more stable for these people, for our community.”

Gordillo said she hopes that comprehensive immigration reform could bring more certainty to the DACA recipients who have put their lives on hold due to the tenuous state of their legal statuses. Additionally, she wants Congress to bring down the costs for the DACA applicants who spend hundreds of dollars renewing their DACA every two years.