Summit County local among many concerned over DACA changes
For DACA families:
The Family and Intercultural Resource Center, a local nonprofit, will be hosting a DACA question-and-answer night on Sept. 12, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the FIRC office, 251 W. Fourth St. in Silverthorne.
Elevation Law, a local immigration law firm, will be present to answer questions about the recent policy change and permit renewals.
FIRC has a dedicated DACA application fund and can help people submit renewals until Sept. 25. To make an appointment, call FIRC at 970-262-3888.
Ingrid Gaspar was in class on Tuesday when she got a text from a friend.
“We’re screwed,” it said.
Ingrid, an 18-year-old freshman at Colorado Mountain College in Dillon, was confused.
Her friend clarified: the Trump administration had announced it was ending a deportation relief program for immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
“I texted back and was like, ‘I knew it,'” Ingrid said. “That was my only response.”
Ingrid is one of roughly 800,000 beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that protected young people like her from deportation and allowed them to work legally.
The program had lingered in the crosshairs of the Trump administration for months, but its relative popularity seemed to be a saving grace. That changed on Tuesday, when attorney general Jeff Sessions announced the program would be phased out over the next six months.
“It wasn’t a surprise, but it was definitely heartbreaking,” Ingrid said, recalling how the announcement echoed across the news and through social media. “It was hard to hear it every time, to see it everywhere, but you just kind of have to deal with it. You have to keep going.”
NO REASON TO RETURN
Ingrid is one of more than 17,000 Colorado residents who have enrolled in DACA since its inception in 2012, according to federal data. It’s hard to say how many live in Summit County, but local immigration attorney Karen Santric estimates that it’s at least 200.
“On Tuesday, our office was flooded with calls,” she said. “I worked 16 hours that day trying to calm people down.”
Like many of the program’s beneficiaries, Ingrid doesn’t remember coming to the U.S. She was born in Mexico City but was less than 2 years old when her mother, Maria, walked across the border in El Paso, Texas, and took a bus to join her husband in Summit County. (Maria is a pseudonym.)
“It was easy then,” she recalled. “Nobody said anything.”
The plan was to eventually return to Mexico, but things changed there. A couple of years after Maria left, one of her cousins was kidnapped and found dead near the border. Another cousin was killed several years later, struck by a stray bullet on his way to work. Maria’s mother told her not to come back.
“When I was there, it was easy to live in Mexico,” Maria said. “But now it’s hard because there’s lots of violence and gangs and drug wars, so by the time we wanted to go back to Mexico, it was too late. There was no reason to go back.”
So instead, the family settled in Summit County, where they’ve lived for 16 years. Ingrid was baptized at Emanuel Fellowship, a non-denominational Christian church in Frisco where she now teaches Sunday school.
A couple of years after their arrival, the Gaspars had another daughter, Ivana. Now 14 years old, she is the only person in her family who is here legally. That never seemed to matter until recently.
“In a way I didn’t even realize my family was undocumented until the whole situation with Trump started popping up,” Ivana said, turning to her older sister. “And I was like, ‘Wow really? I thought you were born here!’ I didn’t even know.”
Ingrid knew — sort of. She didn’t have any memory of her home country, aside from her parents’ stories. But her otherness was still apparent at times.
“I always kind of knew that I was different from a lot of the kids here,” she said. “I always knew that I couldn’t do a lot of the stuff the other kids did … I was always questioning why we couldn’t go anywhere for spring break, why we couldn’t go back to Mexico.”
The way Ingrid tells it, her acceptance into DACA in 2014 wasn’t some huge relief, just the end of a background oddity in an otherwise normal American childhood.
“I really didn’t understand what it was to be legal here, because I didn’t feel illegal,” she said. “I felt like everyone else.”
STUCK IN LIMBO
For around five years now, Ingrid and her friends have lived semi-legal lives, renewed every two years and contingent on good behavior. DACA doesn’t provide a path to citizenship — it’s more like waiting in the lobby while the long line for green cards files past.
Now, their future is even less clear. After attorney general Sessions’ announcement, President Trump called on Congress to find a solution, presumably something like the failed DREAM Act, a 2010 bill that would’ve given young people deportation protection.
Santric, the Dillon immigration lawyer, is guardedly optimistic that lawmakers will find a solution before the March 5 deadline. But if they don’t, she said, the consequences could be dire.
“If these protections expire without something else in place, I imagine the majority of DACA recipients will lose their jobs,” she said.
Ingrid has had several jobs since DACA allowed her to get a Social Security number. Right now, she works three days a week at Summit Thrift and Treasure in Dillon, run by the local nonprofit Family and Intercultural Resource Center.
The store is across the street from the Colorado Mountain College campus, where she takes general education courses. Ingrid hopes to eventually be accepted into the school’s competitive nursing program.
“I like to try to think of positive things and not let stuff like this get in our way,” she said. “Because we’re a lot more than a piece of paper that says we can work, or a piece of paper that says we can go to school. We’re a lot more than that.”
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