Colorado’s Sens. Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Cory Gardner co-sponsored the DREAM Act of 2017. It would grant residency to immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, otherwise known as “Dreamers.”
Not all of Colorado’s politicians appear on the same page, however. Last week, a crowd gathered in Glenwood Springs to catch the attention of Rep. Scott Tipton, who hasn’t yet indicated how he’d vote on a DREAM Act.
The crowd that gathered outside Glenwood Springs High School on Tues., Dec. 5, wasn’t deterred by the cold. Gethzemani Grajales, for one, remembers a time in more extreme conditions. When she was 15, she crossed the U.S.-Mexico border with her two sisters, who were 13 and 9 at the time.
“They had us in this little trailer full of 60 people. It was July. It was so hot. We didn’t have any food,” she said.
They came to the U.S. to be with their mom, who was already here working. Once Grajales began her life here, however, she said she was never at ease, and “lived in the shadows.”
“When I first got here, I was afraid of going to school, afraid of driving to school, afraid of asking for a job,” Grajales said. “I felt like my body was here, but I was somewhere else.”
In 2012, President Obama signed an executive order, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy (DACA), which temporarily shielded people in a similar situation to Grajales from deportation.
When she received DACA, Grajales had just graduated from college with a physics degree. She could now get a driver’s license, a valid social security number and a work permit.
“I could go anywhere I wanted with my bachelors degree and be able to work here legally,” she said.
However, DACA has always been a temporary and incomplete effort at providing any kind of legal status for Dreamers.
Violeta Chapin, a clinical professor of law at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder, said any immigration status for these young people would require a change in the law, like the DREAM Act, which she said has always been “a little bit of a unicorn.”
The crowd gathered outside Glenwood Springs High School was tired of the DREAM Act being a unicorn. They wanted Rep. Tipton to support it. But the crowd was clear: They want a clean DREAM Act, which means no additional provisions ramping up border security, no more money for immigration enforcement, nor for a border wall.
Violeta Chapin doesn’t think Republicans will pass legislation protecting DREAMers without tightening immigration enforcement.
“They’re not going to give away DACA for a song,” said Chapin. “And they shouldn’t have to. They have a majority in Congress … and right now, quite frankly, the Democrats don’t have much bargaining power.”
In a statement, Rep. Tipton said he supports a “commonsense and compassionate solution” for the DREAMers, but that he also wants to continue to secure the U.S.-Mexico border and prevent further illegal immigration.
DACA expires in March and, if Congress fails to act, Dreamers like Grajales will lose their protection. She got a taste of what this would be like a few weeks ago. She had renewed her DACA paperwork, but didn’t have it in-hand yet and she thought she was going to lose her job.
“It was as if I was carrying a backpack full of rocks,” she said, “I was sleeping with the backpack full of rocks. I would wake up with the backpack full of rocks. I felt so stressed and so tired.” Eventually the paperwork arrived. Grajales has learned how to hope and said if there’s one thing she can share with her fellow Dreamers, it’s the ability to dream.
“We might not be here tomorrow, but we might,” she said. “We might get to stay.”