Nayeli Sanchez is used to playing the odds. Having been brought to Denver from Guadalajara, Mexico by her family at two years old, she was considered undocumented for most of her life. It wasn’t until 2012 that the thought of attending college became a serious consideration for Sanchez. That is when Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was issued via executive order by the Obama Administration. The policy offered undocumented immigrants access to state financial aid for higher education and work authorization.
“I had applied for college just before the Trump administration came in,” said Sanchez, who completed her degree in business management at MSU Denver in the spring of this year. “I was still going through the process of getting Social Security and my work permit in my first year of college, all while the pandemic was slowing all of this down. But the situation with DACA was always a waiting game.”
Since graduating, Sanchez has been working as a specialist in the MSU Denver Immigration Services Program. She advocates for those who share her background by arranging resources such as legal counseling, something that is increasingly needed as the dissolution of DACA seems near.
“Once I started working, I learned that there are many sides to this story,” Sanchez said. “There are some who are fighting for their whole family while others just need to keep their job or protect their education.”
The U.S. Supreme Court kept the policy in place after hearing oral arguments in 2020. But September 2023 saw a shift when Texas U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled in agreement with eight other states that DACA is illegal, meaning that another Supreme Court showdown is likely in store.
“There was progress in the years after DACA [was issued], but never institutionalized progress,” said Jazmin Chavez, a graduate of CU Boulder and the University of Denver Strum College of Law. “It wasn’t a protection that could stand the test of litigation.”
Chavez, whose family immigrated from Mexico to Denver in 1984, was in Washington D.C. when the executive order announcing DACA was issued. She recalled the moment as one of hope, but also hesitation.
“It was definitely a moment of both celebration and relief,” Chavez said. “But we were also cautiously optimistic. We knew that this was a temporary fix, not a permanent solution.”
Part of the executive order establishing DACA was the program’s inclusion of a clear cutoff date. Specifically, any person who was born or entered the country after June 2007 is excluded from the program. This means that the majority of the 3.6 million “Dreamers”—or undocumented immigrants who were brought over as children and now live in the U.S.—remain vulnerable to deportation.
“The reality is that congressional inaction is what led us here,” Chavez said. “So they have to take action for some permanent protections now.”
Congress has tried several times before to codify protections for Dreamers. Over the last 20 years, 11 versions of the bill have been introduced. Earlier this year, two different versions of the DREAM Act were introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Their passage is still uncertain.
As of March 2023, Colorado was home to over 14,000 DACA recipients, a population largely composed of parents or people who are well into their careers.
“It’s not just about changing a status,” Sanchez said. “There’s people that already have families that have built a profession and bought homes because of this program, but have to go back because they lose the one status that has opened doors for them.”
For more DACA updates and links to immigration resources in the Denver Metro area, visit the Denver Government website.