Chasing the American Dream: DACA offers the dream for Steamboat business owner, but residency remains out of reach
September 24, 2017
Chasing the American dream
Steamboat Springs business owner Alejandro Parra understands the challenges of running a company in a mountain town, but he has also discovered the rewards as he pursues the American dream in Northwest Colorado.
Despite growing up in Steamboat Springs Parra, 34, is not a U.S. citizen. He owes the fact that he has a business, holds a drivers license and Social Security Card to the DACA program. The Obama-era DACA program shields young undocumented immigrants like Parra from deportation, and allows them to work — and in Parra's case run the construction and cleaning business he has owned and operated for the past four years. That business has allowed him to purchase a car, support his family and build a life that would be much harder, and more dangerous in Mexico where he lived until 2003.
"I was working before (DACA), but I did not have a Social Security number," the young man said. "It's hard to find work, but with the work I was doing, they just paid me cash. With DACA, I have a lot more opportunity. I was able to open my own company, start doing my own business and get my driver's license. I start doing good for my family, and the company kept growing."
But after the Trump Administration announced earlier this month that it would start phasing out DACA, Parra's future is uncertain. For the first time in many years he is not sure what the future will hold, or how he will be able to do the things that have been afforded to him through DACA.
"I'm a little scared that I am not even going to be able to drive," Parra said. "I take my kids every day to school, but now that is going to be a little risk. We are all scared because we are not going to be able to find jobs without a Social Security number. It's going to be real, real tough for us to grow and to get work."
Part of the problem is that while DACA gave him the opportunity to work and build a life in the United States, it does not offer him a clear path to residency. The only way to do that would be to apply for a permanent resident card, or as it is better known a Green Card.
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But Steamboat Springs' attorney Elizabeth Wittemyer said that is not as easy as it sounds for those who want to immigrate to the United States legally, or are currently on DACA.
In order to get a permanent resident card an applicant must be a skilled worker, and normally must be sponsored by an employer who is willing to go thought a long, and often times expensive process. The employer must work not only with immigration, but also the Department of Labor to show a need for the employee and that the employee is not displacing an American worker who already lives in the United States.
Once a person is awarded a permanent resident card they must hold that card for a period of years before they can apply for citizenship. Then, they must pass a citizenship test before becoming a citizen.
The only other path is through family members. In the case of a legal resident sponsoring an immediate family member — parents, spouse or children — the process is fairly streamlined. In some cases, it only takes a matter of years. But when it comes to a citizen sponsoring a sibling, the process is limited, and there is a long waiting list. Wittemyer said getting citizenship can take nearly 20 years in many cases depending on the country the person is immigrating from.
Getting a permanent resident card based on employment would also be unlikely since most of the immigrants receiving those cards are workers with specialized skills. It would be very unlikely that someone like Parra could meet the requirements to obtain a green card, or permanent citizenship.
So for now, Parra's future is in the hands of politicians who are debating a long list of conflicting points of view in an effort to come to an agreement that would allow DACA permit holders to continue to live, work and build a life in the U.S.
Chasing the American dream