After weeks of speculation, the Trump Administration announced on Tuesday Sept. 5 that it’s rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Despite pressure from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, national business leaders, local mayors, governors and other local elected officials, university and higher education institutions and hundreds of advocacy organizations to keep the program, the Trump administration said it will phase out the program by March 5, 2018, giving Congress six months to pass legislation to aid the approximately 800,000 young people who currently benefit from deportation relief and work authorization under DACA.
Following the announcement, thousands of people rallied across Colorado in support of the roughly 17,000 DACA recipients in the state. Known as Dreamers, these young people were brought to the U.S. as children, and are resolved to continue fighting for their right to stay in the country they call home.
“We are real people,” says Gladis Ibarra, a DACA recipient from Thornton. “These are our lives that are being affected.”
She crossed the border at 7 years old with her mom and sisters after traveling to the border by bus and truck. Her family was eventually left in the desert for hours without water until a smuggler finally came to show them the way. “It’s one of those things that you don’t forget no matter how much time passes,” she says. “It’s like a movie you’ve watched a hundred times; you know all the details.”
Growing up she felt torn, constantly being told she didn’t quite belong even though she thought of the U.S. as her home.
“It’s one of those things that you’re in between,” she says.
She struggled at the beginning of high school, unmotivated by graduation and the lack of opportunities that awaited her afterward. But then she transferred to an alternative school where she felt supported and accepted. She graduated in 2008.
Still, “my future was unsure,” she says. “DACA wasn’t an option yet.”
She worked in restaurants for several years until 2013, when she hired a lawyer and applied for DACA.
“It was scary,” she says about handing over all her personal information to the government. “There’s this saying in Spanish, que no arriesga no ganas, if you don’t risk it you won’t gain. So really I had everything to lose but I had so much more to gain.”
The day she received her work permit, she quit her job at the restaurant and now does administrative work for a local physical therapist. She’s saved up some money and taken a few community college classes, something she never would have dreamed possible in high school.
But with the government’s announcement on Tuesday, it all feels threatened.
“It’s going to affect literally everything. We have to rearrange everything we’re doing,” she says. But still she remains resilient, determined to find a way to stay.
“I didn’t always have [protection under DACA], so I’m going to survive. It’s going to be hard for them to get me out.”
Victor Galvan, a DACA recipient who works with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, has been fighting for immigration reform since high school.
“As scary and unnerving as this situation is right now, we have so much to fight for. Our lives depend on it,” he says. “I truly believe that we are one of the most resilient movements. We took something that was supposed to scare us, we turned that on its head and it grew into change.”
Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, he came to the U.S. at 8 months old with his mom and two brothers.
“[I] saw the terrible effects of immigration on our lives immediately. Seeing my mom go from job to job, fired or not hired because she didn’t have a social security number,” he says. “That really made me realize I was going to have to fight for everything I needed: school, work, acceptance.”
In 2006, he joined a growing movement of young people determined to gain immigration relief. It was a concentrated effort by undocumented youth around the country to “come out of the shadows,” share their stories and ask Congress to act on their behalf. Galvan became politically active, publically talking about his immigration status and petitioning local legislators for immigration reform, specifically tuition equity. He quickly realized the power young people could have by speaking up and becoming involved.
“I can very well affect elections by just telling my story, by sharing information, by educating people on the issues,” Galvan says. “That to me is democracy, that’s why I love this country.”
It was this movement, Galvan says, that led to DACA.
Since 2001, some version of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act -— which would give undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children a pathway to citizenship — has been introduced in Congress. But each year it has failed to pass.
In 2009, in the wake of high deportation rates and local anti-immigration legislation across the country, the Dreamers movement really gained momentum.
“We saw this moment to leverage the fact that children are blameless in a fight for immigration,” Galvan says. “Our fight for DACA, our fight for relief, has been seeded in changing the hearts and minds of people who have thought the only way to solve the problem was to detain and deport.”
But after passing the House of Representatives in late 2010, the Dream Act failed once again to pass the Senate. It was devastating, Galvan says. While some of his friends gave up the fight for immigration reform, he charged ahead. This time the young people directly pressured President Obama to provide some form of relief before his reelection in 2012.
In June of that year, Galvan was in Longmont with friends when the president announced DACA.
“I just remember feeling euphoric. We were all crying, we were so happy,” he says.
But that day is also filled with heartbreak. Later that afternoon, Galvan and his family got word his older brother had been deported and was back in Mexico. Now, he hardly talks to his brother, and his sister-in-law has since left the state with his nephew and niece.
“We’re supposed to spend our life with our family. And that was taken away from us that day,” he says. “I was destined to be his brother forever. And now we don’t do it right because we have this huge border between us.”
Even as these young immigrants celebrated the DACA victory, conducting trainings, hiring lawyers and preparing to apply, they were forced to come to grips with the fact that their parents were still at risk.
“I’m tired of hearing that it’s not the kids but the parents who are to blame. My mom did everything that she could if not more than I did to make sure we had a better life,” he says. “She had to leave an abusive relationship. She had to struggle as a single parent. She had to give us hope when she had none. That’s more American than [anything] I can think of.”
He pauses, struggling with the knowledge of the risk he’s put his mom in by applying for DACA using their home address, providing information to the federal government that could now be used to deport her.
Plus, while DACA was seen as a victory, it was always temporary. It never provided a path to permanent residency or citizenship.
“This program was always a Band-Aid,” Galvan says. “The permanent solution is a path to citizenship.”
He recently renewed his DACA for the second time, right before he got word that President Trump was considering canceling it. Although the administration says it will honor DACA status until early 2020 if Congress fails to act, it has ceased accepting new applications for the program as of Sept. 5, and will no longer accept renewal applications after Oct. 5. Ibarra is still waiting to hear if her latest renewal has been approved, and officials have said they will review applications already in process on a case-by-case basis.
As DACA is phased out, the Trump administration says it doesn’t have plans to share personal information used to obtain work authorization with enforcement agencies and President Trump personally reiterated in a written statement on Tuesday that DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities, for now. But that has done little to ease the concerns of the immigrant community.
“My life is still in danger. My family’s life is still in danger,” Galvan says. “I’m going to be calling on our allies as well as our opponents to step up, because a huge population of people are about to be a priority for deportation.”
In light of the announcement on Sept. 5, the fate of these young people now rests with Congress, which has failed to pass immigration reform for the last 16 years. Even so, there are signs of progress. In Colorado, Republican Senator Cory Gardner announced he will support Dreamer legislation for the first time, joining with Democrat Michael Bennet in support of the bipartisan 2017 version of the Dream Act introduced in late July by Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois). The legislation would provide a pathway to citizenship for young people who came here as children, finished high school or got their GED, pursued higher education, military service or have worked lawfully for three years, speak English proficiently and have had no felony convictions and pose no threat to national security. And any person who was previously granted DACA status would likewise be eligible for citizenship.
In the House, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) also introduced the American HOPE Act in late July, which would create a 5-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth regardless of educational level, military service or work history.
Still, it remains to be seen if Congress will be able to pass some sort of immigration relief before the Trump administration’s March deadline. Regardless, youth like Galvan, Ibarra and countless others remain committed to the cause, determined to be heard by allies and opponents alike.
“The fact is, I’m undocumented, I’m a person and I count,” Galvan says. “And I’m going to be saying that until we either see change or my life changes because of it.”