Dreamers in Vail Valley want DACA removed from Trump’s wall debate
February 6, 2019
Rita Gutierrez was born in Mexico, but grew up in Eagle County. She graduated from Battle Mountain High School, became the first in her family to graduate college, works at a Vail restaurant and will soon start an administrative job with a local health care provider.
But the DACA recipient still lives in daily fear that someday she'll have to permanently return to a place she does not know — a place where she has had relatives killed in drug-related violence.
"I’ve been in Eagle County since I was six months old, and I'm turning 23 this year. I’ve been here my whole life, and this is the place I know as home," said Gutierrez, who was born in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
"I have family members who have been shot and killed," Gutierrez added. "I still have family (in Chihuahua) and I would like to see them and meet them for the first time. At the same time, it’s scary. I’ve never been there. I don’t know what it’s like."
Gutierrez is registered in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was launched by an an executive order from President Barack Obama in 2012 but rescinded by the Trump administration in 2017. It allows people who were brought to the country before Jan. 1, 2010, and under the age 16, to register with the federal government so they can legally work and study in the United States.
DACA, which has been used as a bargaining chip in President Donald Trump's push for a border wall, has been granted to more than 17,000 Colorado residents like Gutierrez and more than 700,000 people nationwide. Its recipients, who go through rigorous law enforcement background checks, are more commonly referred to as Dreamers after the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
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"There's always going to be immigration," said DACA recipient Alex Trujillo, 22, who like Gutierrez graduated from Battle Mountain and Colorado Mesa University. "Everybody is looking to better themselves and get a little piece of the American dream, right? Speaking for all the Dreamers, (we'd like to) just have our card and not build the wall."
Trump did not mention the Dreamers in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, but he did continue to rail against illegal immigration and call for more border-wall funding. The federal government just endured the longest partial shutdown in United States history after Congress refused the president's request for nearly $6 billion in border-wall funding, and a 17-member bipartisan conference committee has until Feb. 15 to reach a compromise and avoid another shutdown.
A three-year temporary extension of DACA, with no path to citizenship, was part of a failed Senate bill late last month that included $5.7 billion in federal funding for the border wall, which Trump has long promised Mexico will pay for. He has also previously promised to show Dreamers "great heart" but then derailed a deal that would have protected DACA while providing $25 billion in wall funding just last year.
"I think his promises are just full of crap at this point. He shut the government for a wall. What sense does that make?" Gutierrez said, adding that she crossed into the country through a port of entry in the back of a semitrailer.
‘Just give us our papers’
According to her, a wall will do no good and is a waste of her tax dollars. However, if that's what it takes to secure DACA and get a green card, then so be it.
"Yeah, give him the wall, just give us our papers; we've been here long enough. We'll help him build it. Just give me a green card," said Gutierrez, who adds that she's very appreciative of all the opportunities she's had in Eagle County, from the SOS Outreach program to The Cycle Effect to the overall support of local residents.
"Eagle County tends to be a very understanding community, and a lot of people they understand struggling and they’re willing to help you out," said Gutierrez, who has tried to give back to her local community through volunteering and working with others.
Trujillo has also tried hard to give back to the only community he's ever known, graduating from SOS and mentoring at-risk youth. Last month's U.S. Supreme Court decision against expediting a ruling on the Republican legal challenge of DACA provided a little more certainty for Trujillo, who wants to pursue his master's degree but needs to keep working.
A member of Battle Mountain's state championship soccer team in 2012, Trujillo now works for a sports performance training facility in Denver. He was brought to Eagle County from Mexico at the age of 5, and his biggest issue with Trump is that the president has benefited from cheap immigrant labor at his hotels and golf resorts for years.
"I think President Trump knows about all the people who work at his places, right? If it's a restaurant, most people in the kitchen there are Hispanic. It’s a little bit hypocritical, right?" Trujillo said. "Obviously, we know that there's Hispanics everywhere working in his hotels."
Trujillo wants to avoid getting too political, but he would like the DACA question removed from the wall debate.
DACA recipient Marissa Molina, 26, grew up in Glenwood Springs after being brought to Colorado from Mexico when she was 9. Now, she works in Denver for the tech industry immigration lobbying group FWD.us, where she was recently named Colorado state immigration manager.
"From my immediate circle of people, I know engineers, I know people who are working at Facebook and Google and other big industries, people who are very skilled construction workers in the valley," said Molina, a graduate of Glenwood Springs High School and Fort Lewis College.
"Whether you went to college or not, as a DACA recipient, you’re contributing a lot to this country, and being able to have citizenship is just an opportunity to continue to do that without ever feeling like you have this looming threat about your safety and the police (in a place) you’ve always called home," Molina added.
FWD.us is urging anyone who's previously enrolled in DACA to renew as soon as possible. No new registrations are being accepted during the legal challenge, but previous DACA recipients can go to InformedImmigrant.com for more information.
As for Congress, the bipartisan DREAM Act to permanently protect and provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers — a bill supported by both Colorado senators —
continues to languish.
Vail native Mike Johnston, who recently announced he hopes to challenge Republican Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020, blasted both Trump and Gardner in the wake of the president's State of the Union speech.
"(Trump) doubled down on his fear mongering, used the lives of immigrants as political pawns, and continued to push for an unnecessary wall that Coloradans simply don’t want," Johnston said in an email statement. "The most alarming part, though, is that Republican Cory Gardner continues to stand by Trump. In fact, Gardner endorsed Trump’s reelection just last week."
While that's true, Gardner spokesman Jerrod Dobkin says Gardner has been working hard on protecting the Dreamers, including sponsoring the DREAM Act.
"Sen. Gardner strongly supports efforts to increase funding for border security and to fix our broken immigration system," Dobkin said in an email. "Sen. Gardner has led multiple bipartisan immigration groups to find a solution on immigration reforms and border security."