End of DACA leaves Routt County families uncertain, afraid
September 7, 2017
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For Alejandro Parra, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA, had been a blessing.
During the past four years, DACA has allowed Parra to build Ruby's Company, LLC from the ground up. His efforts with the local cleaning company have paid off with a home, a car and the opportunity to provide for his family, including his two young children who are American citizens.
"With the DACA, I have a lot of opportunity," Parra said. "I opened my own company and established my own business, and I get my driver’s license. I started doing good for my family."
So when the news that the Trump administration had ordered an end to the Obama-era DACA program, which allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to work and remain in the country, was devastating for the young entrepreneur who has been carving out a life in the mountains of Northwest Colorado.
Parra is now confronted with the realization that when his DACA work permit expires in two years, he will lose his Social Security number, he will lose his driver's license and he will lose everything that he has built in the only place he calls home — Steamboat Springs.
"When this DACA ends, I don't know what I'm going to do," he said. "I'm scared because I'm not even going to be able to drive because I'm not going to have a driver’s license. We are all scared because we are not going to be able to find jobs. With no driver’s license and no Social Security number, it's going to be real hard for us to grow up and get good work."
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Trump’s decision now means Parra’s future is unclear at best. For him, it means losing a business. For high school students, it means losing a shot at college, and for those in college, it might mean dropping out and giving up on their dreams.
Parra, who has lived in Steamboat since 2003, applied and was granted a DACA work permit in 2013 when he was 16. At the time he was going to classes at Colorado Mountain College to get his GED and working any job he could find in Steamboat Springs to help support his family.
He said it was difficult to find work without a Social Security number, but there were employers who would pay him in cash. He said DACA opened doors for him, helped him find more work and eventually allowed him to start his own company.
Sheila Henderson, executive director of Integrated Community, said she was emotional Tuesday when she heard Trump’s decision.
"I cried a lot yesterday, but otherwise I'm OK," Henderson said earlier this week. "What it means is that in six months we do not know if they will be able to continue working at their jobs, or if they will be able to continue as in-state residents in college."
It also means that young people who are now qualifying as they turn 15 — or if they were here before June 15, 2007, and meet all the criteria — can no longer apply for DACA.
"They are not taking any new initial DACA applications after yesterday (Tuesday)," Henderson said. "That means that we have got young people who are turning 15 or who are 15 in this town who have been working on there applications, and they no longer qualify."
The DACA program is for children who were born somewhere else and brought to the United States. Henderson said Integrated Community is currently working with more than 200 clients in Routt and Moffat counties who have DACA permits. In most cases, these are the children of illegal immigrants who came to the United States in search of a better life for themselves and their children.
In order to qualify for DACA the children had to be in the United States prior to June 15, 2007. The applicants must provide accurate information and are subject to a background check.
"They can't have had a DUI or any type of criminal conviction," Henderson said. "They have to have been here before their 16th birthday, and when Obama did it in 2012, they had to be under 30 years of age."
Additionally, the applicants must be in high school, have graduated from high school or have received their GED. Those who were accepted into the program received a work permit that they would have to renew every two years.
"There is no path to residency, and there is not a path to citizenship," Henderson said. "It's nothing more than a renewable work VISA."
But for Parra it is much more.
"A friend told me that it (DACA) was going to end probably next week, and I told him that I didn't think so," Parra said. "I saw Tuesday on the news that DACA was done. I thought, 'Oh my gosh, now what are we going to do? For me, I have two years, but the people who have renewal in this month, they are not gong to be able to do it. I don't know what is going to happen in the future."
On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally announced the end of the DACA program, but the administration gave Congress a six-month window to pass legislation to save the program.
Parra said the decision, and the mixed messages, have caused him to worry about the future and where it will take him.
“I consider my home, here. This is where I want to live,” Parra said.