The livelihood and prosperity of hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the U.S. is at stake — including my own — if Congress does not act quickly to provide Dreamers with a pathway to citizenship this year. Failure to do so would harm me and all that I’ve worked for over the past 10 years, as well as all Dreamers and everyone that relies on us, in Colorado and beyond.
The stakes to enact immigration reform are higher than ever. This is because the protections I have been granted under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that give me and other immigrants who came to America with our families as children the ability to legally work in the U.S. are in jeopardy due to court rulings and congressional inaction.
In October, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a U.S. District Court ruling that DACA is illegal, continuing years of legal challenges to the program. The program is now being re-evaluated, in light of new rules issued by the Biden administration in August, by the same U.S. District Court in Texas, which is expected to rule against the program, likely leading to DACA’s termination in the very near future.
It is in the best interest of all Coloradans to support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, and the majority of voters are in agreement. Should the program end without a congressional solution in place, it is predicted that 22,000 U.S. jobs that are currently held by DACA recipients will be lost every month for two years. Among the monthly losses would be some 1,600 healthcare workers, 800 education workers and 600 personal care workers.
In Colorado alone, we would lose nearly $44 million in state tax revenue annually, as well as Colorado’s share of $61 million in federal tax revenue and $392 million in purchasing power. These numbers are staggering, and our economy would suffer from these significant hits.
Not only would the economy suffer, but so would the many individuals that rely on the hard work of DACA recipients. In my case, if I lost my protections, it would directly impact the students who I help as the first Undocumented Student Resource Coordinator at the University of Colorado Denver. In this role, I aspire every day to uplift the immigrant community at the university and on the Auraria Campus by advocating for and supporting them.
I know firsthand how difficult it can be to be an immigrant in America accessing higher education and resources, and I hope to continue spreading awareness of the resources and services that are available to immigrants on campus. I want to ensure that students and their families know that my office is a welcoming and supportive one-stop-shop for their questions.
I am hardworking, ambitious and pursuing a career that directly benefits so many within our community, and so are the students I support, but many of these contributions wouldn’t be possible without DACA. My work in Colorado does not feel finished yet, but I may not have a choice.
That’s why I traveled to D.C. on November 16 alongside nearly 100 other Dreamers to meet with our Colorado congressional leaders to advocate for a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers this year. I visited the offices of Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, U.S. Reps. Jason Crow, Joe Neguse, Diana DeGette and others, where I was able to share my story in hopes that they act to protect me and my fellow DACA recipients soon. We received excellent feedback and promises of action, and I hope they come to fruition.
I had the opportunity to meet with Sen. Bennet for the first time in person during this fly-in event. During my undergraduate education at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, I was invited to co-host a Teletown Hall with him on how the pandemic had impacted students in higher education. Sen. Bennet gave me the space to share my voice on issues that pull at my heartstrings, such as a permanent legislative solution for DACA recipients and DACA-eligible individuals.
It was a full circle moment to be able to share my story again — but this time, face-to-face. All the conversations we had with Sen. Hickenlooper’s staff and Reps. Crow, Neguse, and their staffs were important to me to express the urgency during this lame-duck session of Congress: We cannot wait until next year.
From those conversations, I was reminded that they continue to support a legislative solution as they have in the past. Thanks to the ASSET law that was signed by then-Gov. Hickenlooper in 2013, I had the opportunity to graduate from college with in-state tuition.
I am proud to have formed part of the Colorado group of advocates, and I hope they remember our stories and faces during this time, and how an end to DACA could impact thousands of Coloradoans.
I thank these individuals for their time last month and ask them to provide Dreamers like me with a pathway to citizenship this year. We are running out of time, and we need their help.
Estéfani Peña Figueroa lives in Denver.
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