Reaction in Colorado Tuesday came swiftly after the White House announced that it was ending protections from deportation afforded the children of parents who came to the United States illegally.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals program, known as DACA, after six months if Congress cannot find a legislative solution.
DACA currently protects more than 17,000 Colorado minors from deportation. The program was put into action five years ago by an Obama executive order and allows the children of undocumented immigrants who register under certain restrictions to stay in the country.
Shortly after the announcement was made, high school students staged walkouts, protesting the government’s decision. Thousands gathered at the Auraria campus downtown Denver where organizers gave speeches and support to DACA participants. There were students from as far away as Leadville and Brighton.
"It is not OK to use DACA and people who were brought here as children as political toys,” said protest organizer Victor Galvan. “We are not a football. We are not a can to be tossed down the road year after year after year. And we need to tell this administration that we're not going to take it.”
Many in the crowd said they've become more anxious as President Trump’s position on the DACA program has changed. As a presidential candidate, he promised mass deportations of undocumented immigrants. As president, he has expressed sympathy for the plight of the DACA kids. In April, he said they should "rest easy" about their status. For many that hope has ended.
“You may feel like the moment is hopeless, things have been shut down. Ignore the hate, ignore the haters,” said Alejandro Fuentes, who teaches middle school in Denver. He is undocumented but works as part of the DACA program.
Student Angel Zamudio said DACA had changed his life. It let him work at a restaurant, get his driver’s license, and that let him buy what he needed to get by: "School supplies, my backpack, new clothes, helping my mom with groceries once in awhile.
Zamudrio came to the U.S. when he was a year old. He became a DACA recipient in June. Before the DACA program, he said he lived in fear.
"I just feel like it gives me more confidence as a person. For me, DACA was a way to fit in with people, know (ing) like I had legal status but now without it, I’m vulnerable."
Metro State University hosted a resource fair Tuesday for its approximately 300 DACA students.
The university’s president Janine Davidson told CPR last week that the possible end of DACA was making many at the school nervous.
“We are trying to make sure that we have the wraparound services that we need for these students, if they come in for counseling, if they want to talk,” said Davidson.
Other schools in Colorado have spoken up in defense of their DACA students. The University of Colorado Boulder said in a statement that they will continue to accept students regardless of their immigration status.
Denver Public Schools superintendent Tom Boasberg also expressed concern last week with the impending decision.
“To have all of the talent that they bring, all of the potential that they bring, to see that wasted, because of such a short-sighted political decision, is just reprehensible,” said Boasberg.
Where Elected Officials Stand
Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet called Trump’s decision the “height of cruelty.” Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner told Channel 7 that he sees Tuesday’s announcement as an opportunity to “fix this issue through the legislative process.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper said the government should not turn its back on DACA participants.
“President Trump’s decision to end the DACA program unnecessarily jeopardizes the futures of more than 17,000 Coloradans,” the governor said.
On Twitter, Democratic House representatives disagreed with the decision and called for swift action in Congress to find a replacement that will continue to protect immigrants.
“I am urging House Speaker Paul Ryan to put legislation on the House floor that gives these young men and women the chance to achieve their American dream, such as the bipartisan Dream Act," said Rep. Diana DeGette. "Let’s work together to do the right thing and keep our promise. DACA is far from done.”
"The situation is dire," said Rep. Jared Polis. "These aspiring Americans belong here."
— Rep. Ed Perlmutter (@RepPerlmutter) September 5, 2017
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock also called Trump’s decision “cruel” in a statement Tuesday. He said a bipartisan decision in Congress is needed now to protect DACA youth.
“If the President chooses to forfeit his moral leadership with this heartless attempt to score political points, then it’s up to the House of Representatives and Senate to show all Americans we can still govern with compassion,” said Hancock.
On the Republican side in the House Rep. Doug Lamborn said on Facebook he is “encouraged by the President’s commitment to cracking down on illegal immigration.”
Rep. Scott Tipton tweeted that he disagreed with how the DACA program was enacted but wants to find a way to keep its members in the country.
“I believe Congress must act to develop a compassionate and commonsense solution for the children who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents,” said Tipton.
Echoing the Republican congressmen, State House Rep. Dave Williams for Colorado Springs supported Trump’s decision to end the program.
"It's unfair to the people that come here legally and appropriately to try and just make exceptions for children that may have been brought here,” said Williams. “And I think the only way that we can come up with a solution is to actually have this thorough, deliberate process.”
Opponents of DACA say the executive action was an unconstitutional abuse of power and should have left the decision-making to Congress. Advocates for the program say executive action was necessary since Congress wasn’t making enough progress with immigration reform.
DACA participants will continue to be protected until March, but as of Tuesday no new applications will be accepted by the federal government.
GOP Rep. Mike Coffman formally filed a discharge petition Tuesday to force a vote on the BRIDGE Act in the House. The act would give a 3-year extension to DACA, allowing Congress more time to come up with permanent immigration reform.
Coffman said the way DACA was created was unconstitutional, but he is an advocate for the continuation of such a program. He is confident that three years will be enough time to find a solution.
“These are children, young people, that really played by the rules,” said Coffman. “I mean they could have hidden in shadows you know like some of their contemporaries but they came out of the shadows to register with the federal government.”
Western Slope Farmers, Officials Seek Solutions
On the Western Slope, Palisade peach farmer Bruce Talbott said he's been outspoken for years on the need for comprehensive immigration reform mostly to help with farm labor, and said the president's decision may be the hammer Congress needs. "They have been unwilling to deal with the problem," he said. "I don't want to throw the DACA kids under the bus but we do need some kind of immigration repair."
At Colorado Mesa University, which has hundreds of DACA recipients, President Tim Foster said he is "adding his voice to the chorus of people urging Congress to quickly find a pathway to allow current and future undocumented kids to complete their studies and become valuable community leaders."
Grand Junction Mayor Rick Taggart said ending DACA will likely affect the labor force in the area, given the booming tourism, energy and agricultural industries. But he also worries about the humanitarian side of the equation. "If those students or young adults are now subject to deportation, it's going to affect the whole family."
CPR's Jenny Brundin, Allison Sherry and Xandra McMahon contrubuted to this report.