Hundreds of Roaring Fork Valley children and young adults affected by DACA decision | AspenTimes.com

Hundreds of Roaring Fork Valley children and young adults affected by DACA decision

Students in the Roaring Fork PreCollegiate program from Roaring Fork High School meet with their mentors last school year. About 20 percent of the students in the program are enrolled in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Hundreds of children and young adults who have grown up with the Roaring Fork Valley as the only home they have known could soon face greater risk of deportation to a strange land.

President Donald Trump is expected to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program today. President Barack Obama created the program in 2012 to provide protection from deportation to young immigrants who were brought into the United States as children by their families without legal permission.

An estimated 17,000 people in Colorado are enrolled in DACA, which grants temporary resident status and provides work permits. They are often referred to as "dreamers." It is unknown how many people from the Roaring Fork Valley are enrolled and could be affected by Trump's decision.

"It's a lot of unknown, and the anxiety level has just ratcheted up," said David Smith, who works with students in the Roaring Fork RE-1 School District to help them become the first from their families to go to college. About 20 percent of the students he works with are in the DACA program. "I think everybody has been on pins and needles waiting to see what happens."

Alex Alvarado, 24, moved to Carbondale with his family from Chihuahua, Mexico, when he was 2 years old. He went through the Carbondale public school system and graduated from Roaring Fork High School in 2011. He has no recollection of Mexico and has never met many of his relatives.

"My friends here are my family," he said.

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He enrolled in the DACA program in early 2013 and has gone on to get his associate's degree from Colorado Mountain College and bachelor's degree from Metro State in Denver. He is now working as a paralegal for an immigration law firm in Denver.

DACA is vital for him to work, travel and for general peace of mind.

"The important thing is just having that sense of peace," Alvarado said. "I don't have to be afraid of deportation if I get pulled over for a traffic infraction."

For people going to college, being in DACA makes it easier to qualify for scholarships and work-study programs.

Smith anticipates about 360 students in the Roaring Fork PreCollegiate program this year. He works with students from seventh through 12th grade in the public schools in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. The students work with mentors on academic issues and life skills.

The program doesn't take federal grants, therefore it can work with students living in the country without legal permission. DACA has helped many of those students to pursue higher education and professional careers.

Most of the students are young adults and aware of the potential changes, Smith said. Many are resigned to focus on their studies and see how the issue shapes up.

DACA is helpful but not essential to go to college, Smith said. Even if the program is ended, students will still be able to get in-state tuition at many Colorado institutions of higher learning. Other states might not be as welcoming to students who cannot prove they are in the country legally.

When students are in the DACA program, Smith said the focus is: "What's the best college for you? What's the best fit?"

Without that protection, the question will be: "What's the safest and best college for you?"

Smith said his immediate concern is for students who have gone through the Roaring Fork PreCollegiate program, graduated from college and are working, such as Alvarado.

DACA is good for two-year periods, then recipients must apply to renew. It is believed Trump will stop enrolling new people in the program and decline renewals. The question is how aggressively the administration will pursue deportation of children and young adults who were once a low priority.

Alvarado said people who showed they believed in the process and enrolled in DACA have made themselves "vulnerable" by providing their addresses, social security numbers and other information, he said.

"To many of us, it's not surprising that this administration is contemplating and seriously planning to remove DACA," Alvarado said. "DACA has always been a temporary solution. We need a permanent path to citizenship."

He said his next steps would depend on what direction the administration takes.

Whatever happens the DACA and with immigration policy in general, the immigrant community won't give up, Alvarado said.

"Looking at the bigger picture, removing DACA is about preventing young people of color from gaining wealth and stability in this country," he said. "Together with the U.S.'s history of mass deportations, slowing down the legal immigration process and removing programs such as DACA, the message being sent is that communities of color should be invisible, if not physically removed from this country."

scondon@aspentimes.com

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