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Colorado DACA recipients fearful of uncertain future after judge find program unlawful

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Posted at 11:19 PM, Jul 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 01:19:55-04

DENVER — The future of nearly 14,520 active DACA recipients in Colorado is uncertain after a Texas federal judge ruled the program was unlawful last week.

The ruling led to sleepless nights, stress and fears surrounding the future for Jose Puente. He was brought to the U.S. in 2006 when he was 8 years old.

Puente remembers crossing the border from Mexico to Texas with his mom and sisters. It was their second attempt. He said they were put in a horse trailer and smuggled to Colorado. He can still recall the fear he felt when the trailer hit bumps on the road that shook him awake. Puente was afraid they would be caught by immigration authorities.

“I didn’t know if we were already in the U.S.,” Puente said.

The first time his family attempted to cross the border, they were caught by immigration, and officers threatened to separate them from their mother if they were caught attempting to cross again. Puente said his mother was determined to reach the land of the free to achieve the American dream.

Puente was a freshman in high school when he applied for the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program and was approved. He became one of more than 800,000 immigrants shielded from deportation and could secure a license and a job after being brought to the U.S. illegally.

To qualify for the program, immigrants had to be brought to the United States before turning 16 years old and live in the states since June 15, 2007.

Former President Barack Obama used executive action to roll out the DACA program in 2012. However, United States District Judge Andrew S. Hanen of Houston ruled the former president overstepped his authority. The judge concluded the Department of Homeland Security may continue to accept new DACA applications and renewals but prevents the department from approving applications.

Current DACA holders won’t be affected as of now and can continue to work in the U.S.

The judge stated that the order does not require DHS or the Department of Justice to take any “immigration, deportation or criminal action against any DACA recipient, applicant or any individual that it would not otherwise take.”

To apply for DACA, immigrants must pay $495.

Puente called the DACA ruling a blow fueling anxiety and uncertainty among immigrants planning to apply or who have applied.

“After the announcement Friday, I was just shocked, and I couldn’t even sleep,” Puente said. “You are filled with a lot of thoughts: What’s next? What can I do? What is my next plan? What is my next move?”

Puente is grateful he was able to renew his DACA earlier this year, but he said it’s a temporary relief.

Puente graduated this spring from Metropolitan State University of Denver with a degree in sociology with a minor in communications. He is now working at MSU as an advisor with the First-Generation Initiatives program. He helps first-generation college students, like himself, navigate the school system. There are roughly 350 DACA recipients at the university, and he said some are stressed out about their future.

MSU President Janine Davidson recently signed a lettercalling on the U.S. Senate to pass a bipartisan Dream Act. The letter reads that action is critical for the “98,000 Dreamers who graduate from high school every year and the 427,000 undocumented students enrolled in institutions of higher education.”

“What the letter does is it expresses our disappointment in the latest ruling and encourages, urges Congress to get to a better solution,” Davidson said.

In 2013, the Colorado ASSET bill went into effect, which allows eligible undocumented students who meet the requirements to pay in-state tuition. Davidson said MSU championed the effort and vowed to continue to fight for DACA recipients.

“No one can take away your human capital, so stick to your program, get that degree. Sure, we have some uncertainty, but we are going to fight like crazy,” Davidson said.

MSU immigration expert and general counsel David Fine advises anyone thinking of still applying for the DACA program to consult an immigration attorney.

“This ruling may be appealed. It would be appealed up to what is known as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and potentially from there to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Fine said. “In the meantime, there is an opportunity for federal legislation on immigration that could address this issue.”

Every two years since high school, Puente has renewed his DACA. He said for too long he’s lived in limbo and wants a permanent solution so he can continue to pursue his dream of becoming a professor without fear of losing his DACA permit to work.

“We just can’t be the bargaining chips for either the Democratic or Republican party,” Puente said.

In May of 2021, Governor Jared Polis signed a bill that allows immigrants to pursue a professional license in select departments and divisions despite their legal status.