April 25 2017
Imagine having worked toward college your entire life and earning a full-ride scholarship to any institution only to have the offer revoked based on your country of birth.
At a bilingual event held April 14 by UNIDOS, the new student club for undocumented students and their allies, a panel of students told their stories, and answered questions about being undocumented college students in the U.S.
According to Kee Warner, associate vice chancellor for Inclusion and Academic Engagement, the CU Regents passed a resolution in support of Deferred Action and Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Asset students on April 7.
“That’s something they did because of what they heard from our students on the different (CU) campuses,” said Warner.
DACA provides undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 the legal right to work and go to school in the U.S.
Colorado immigrant advocacy groups and immigration lawyers also attended the event, called Out of the Shadows: Immigrant Rights and Perspectives, to offer resources and answer questions for any students or members of the community.
To present on the status of immigration rights in the U.S., four panelists represented the Colorado Immigration Rights Coalition (CIRC), Izaguirre Law Firm and Grupo Esperanza, an advocacy group for Latin American immigrants living in the U.S.
Challenges of being undocumented
Despite more leeway afforded to DACA students, a primary theme throughout the night was to address the fear of living every day with the possibility of having to confront U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
One of the panelists, immigration lawyer Stephanie Izaguirre, said that President Donald Trump has eradicated the prioritization strategy of deportation that had previously focused more on criminals.
“It’s made the system really unpredictable,” she said.
Trump had said he intended to repeal DACA, initiated under the Obama administration, but he has not done so yet, according to Izaguirre.
“Something like DACA is going to be at risk, but I think it is likely to stay where it is.”
Izaguirre also said that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services worked to process DACA requests as quickly as possible before Trump came into offi ce on Jan 20 and they have continued to process cases quickly.
Deportation is still a potential risk for all undocumented immigrants, regardless of DACA status.
Izaguirre stressed that the government still has checks and balances, and that Trump cannot change laws on his own.
Brendan Greene, campaigns director for CIRC, explained that immigration holds can be placed on someone, whether or not there is proof that they are undocumented. This has resulted in the detainment of U.S. citizens.
“These are really subjective, and most cases when they’re issued, they aren’t necessarily based on any probable cause— no judge reviews it,” he said.
Another problem faced by undocumented immigrants is making the decision to report crime and risk deportation.
Izaguirre’s clients that try to acquire a U Visa, which grants legal residence in the U.S. to victims of serious crimes for up to four years, are often ineligible for protection because they were too afraid to report a crime when it happened.
She tells those clients, “If anything like this ever happens to you again, I know it’s scary, but you need to pick up the phone and call.”
The most question she is asked most frequently is about whether law enforcement will deport the victim who reports a crime.
“That’s a really scary moment for me because I can’t guarantee what’s going to happen.”
She said her number one piece of advice for those at risk of deportation is to save several $1,000 to be able to pay a bond if detained. Once a bond is posted, the detainee can leave the detainment center and his or her deportation case goes into processing.
“Once the bond is paid, we get into the three, four, five, six, seven-year deportation process,” she said, and added that part of her job is to help slow this process as much as possible.
Colorado Immigration Legislature
CIRC works with over 60 member organizations in Colorado to work to pass pro-immigrant legislation for the good of the community.
When Senate Bill 90 passed in 2006, local law enforcement were required to report anyone they suspected of being undocumented to ICE, Greene said.
“At that time, literally thousands and thousands of people were deported every year from our state—a large majority of them, for not having a license,” he said.
“We lived under this law for six years, and this is where our coalition was born: to work to repeal this law.”
“We teamed up with the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, and we drafted this legislation together,” Green said.
“We were both at the capitol saying we don’t want to have police being forced to do the work of Immigration and Customs Enforcement because it hurts our communities—it makes us less safe.”
The coalition compiled data proving that when law enforcement cooperates with ICE to detain all undocumented persons, the community stops reporting crimes as a result of diminished trust between the police officers and the community, Greene said.
“People were afraid to talk to sheriffs; people were afraid to report crime; people weren’t being prosecuted because victims couldn’t show up to court because they were afraid of the cops.”
The SB 90 law was repealed in Colorado in 2013.
Grupo Esperanza, one of CIRC’s member organizations since 2015 that works to educate immigrants about their rights, is also involved in pro-immigrant legislature in Colorado, according to Greene.
“One of (their) biggest campaigns right now is implementing the SB-251 program,” Greene said, who translated for the other panelists.
“This is a program that provides driver’s licenses to the undocumented community.”
Grupo Esperanza also participates in documenting abuses of undocumented citizens in Colorado and provides information on trustworthy immigration lawyers.
Colorado law enforcement
CIRC is now working to address the uncertainty of immigration issues brought by a new presidential administration, according to Greene.
Despite this, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, according to Greene, will not detain anyone for ICE without probable cause, despite threats from the Trump administration to cut funding to law enforcement departments who do not comply with ICE.
Grupo Esperanza is working to form sanctuary churches in the community to offer protection to immigrants.
Every two or three months, this group meets with El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder to establish a strong relationship between law enforcement and all immigrants in the community.
Similarly, Izaguirre was invited by the police department to speak at a public event about immigration rights, and commended the police department for establishing strong relationships in the community.
“They do the job and keep politics out of it, so I am happy to participate in anything that they are doing,” she said.