Steamboat DACA recipients travel to DC to advocate for permanent protections
March 11, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Armando Reyes, 21, is a promising student at Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs who plans to get his degree in the spring, wants to be a part of our country’s military and dreams of someday being a chef in his own restaurant.
"I'm hoping to own one somewhere in the future," Reyes said about his plans to run a restaurant. "But that's a few years down the road."
But last week, Reyes wasn't serving up food as much as political action. The CMC resident assistant was one of six Colorado residents who traveled to Washington, D.C., to advocate for permanent protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals while meeting with Colorado legislators.
Reyes, who grew up in Olathe, is one of an estimated 700,000 young, unauthorized immigrants, often called “Dreamers,” who have received work permits and protection from deportation through the DACA program.
He has lived in Colorado since he was 4 and, like so many of the children and young adults like him, dreams of someday becoming a citizen in the country where he grew up.
"As cliché as it sounds, it means everything," Reyes said about DACA. "It really does mean everything for me and other DACA recipients."
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Reyes said DACA allowed him to step out of the shadows, go to high school without fear and get a driver’s license. It also allowed him to work, go to college where he hopes to earn a degree in restaurant and culinary management and — maybe someday — own his own restaurant. None of that would have been possible, he said, without support from his family, the community where he grew up and DACA.
"I still remember how ecstatic I was when I learned that I could get my permit, my license. I remember how I didn't have to be afraid if I just drove down the block or somewhere else,” Reyes said. “It was a confidence boost because, at the time, I would only think about the things that I couldn't do. But when I got it, I said, 'I'm just like everybody else.’ It opened up so many doors for me."
Last week, Reyes was joined by fellow CMC student Axel Garcia as part of a group of nearly 80 individuals from 12 states who took part in the #ProtectTheDream fly-in, supported by FWD.us, National TPS Alliance and UndocuBlack Network.
"I am hoping that they will make it (DACA) a permanent thing," said Garcia, who grew up in Yampa and graduated from Soroco High School last year. "I hope everybody gets a chance to stay and live the American dream. I hope we get a chance to work in the area that we want and, if we work hard enough, get to the position that we want. I hope we do not have to live in fear that one day our time will run out, and we will get deported."
Reyes and Garcia recently renewed their DACA status, and now they are hoping the U.S. Congress will address what to do with DACA recipients in the next two years. If Reyes and Garcia, who were brought to this country as children, can't renew their DACA status, they face the possibility of being deported to an unfamiliar country.
"One of the most important things about the fly-in is having the opportunity for people who are directly impacted by the issue to be able to make a call to action through their representatives around the urgency that exists to find permanent protections, so that they are not continuing to live their lives on a court-by-court basis or a two-year by two-year increment," said Marissa Molina, Colorado State Immigration Manager for FWD.us. "Having those meetings with representatives is an opportunity for them to hear directly just how peoples’ lives have been in limbo since the administration started making those active threats on the programs and make a call to action around the urgency around them, their families and their communities."
The Trump administration put the fate of people like Reyes and Garcia in the hands of Congress in 2017. Last week, the DACA recipients — along with others in the temporary protected status and deferred enforcement departure categories — met with Democrats like Reps. Joe Neguse and Diana DeGette as well as Sens. Michael Bennet, D-CO, and Cory Gardner, R-CO. They also met with staff members from the offices of Republican Reps. Ken Buck and Scott Tipton.
"My message was mainly my story, and those of people who grew up the way I did," Reyes said. "I was basically telling them my memories are filled with what I couldn't do instead of all the good memories most people my age would have."