U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, on Friday urged support for Dreamers during a discussion on the Colorado Compact on Immigration hosted at the St. Cajetan’s Event Center in Denver.
The compact is a set of principles calling for immigration reform, and Friday’s event ended up coinciding with a Supreme Court announcement that could affect thousands of immigrant residents in Colorado. The highest court said it will decide whether President Trump can end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The program was started by President Obama could end under Trump, who gave the order to end the program in 2017.
The Associated Press reported the program protects about 700,000 people nationwide. Recipients are often people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as kids. The AP reported a decision on the case could come by June 2020, in the midst of a presidential election year.
While both Gardner and Weiser are backing Dreamers, they’re coming at the issue from different angles.
Colorado in March joined several other states in a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s decision to end the program. Weiser told reporters Friday their argument includes challenging the justification for ending the program — “they’re contrived, they’re not genuine,” Weiser said — and due process.
Weiser called SCOTUS’ decisions on Friday “disappointing” and said Dreamers are being made “part of a political game.” He declined to comment on what the state would do if DACA is repealed.
“My message is I have your back,” Weiser said. “I’m defending your rights. I’m defending humane and fair treatment, which is what this country’s based on. They are believing in America as much as anyone.”
By supporting Dreamers, Gardner is seemingly in opposition with Trump, whom he’s already said he will support for reelection. Gardner, who like Trump is facing reelection next year, said the country’s immigration system is “broken” and in need of reform, adding that the country is a “nation of immigrants but a nation of laws.”
Gardner told reporters after the meeting that Congress should take care of the issue.
“I hope Congress acts not because of a date in a court or because of an election year, but they act because it’s the right thing to do,” Gardner said. “We know this is the right thing to do. I have people that I live with in my community who are Dreamers. Our daughter goes to school with a grade-full of Dreamers.”
He’s calling for an immediate vote on DACA in Congress and said he’s personally talked to Trump “many times” about the need to pass a Dream Act. Gardner doesn’t agree with decriminalizing border crossings, as was suggested by Democratic presidential candidates during debates this week.
“It’s not just about farm workers,” Gardner said. “This is about doctors and engineers. It’s about people who work in small towns. It’s about our neighbors … we can fix this. We’re so close to getting it done and that’s why we have to act.”
But his calls for Congress to take action on the issue by passing legislation might be a dead end. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested earlier this month that the Senate was unlikely to take up a bill passed earlier this month in the U.S. House providing a path to citizenship.
It means DACA’s fate will likely rest in the hands of a SCOTUS decision.
Victor Galvan, who’s the director of federal campaigns for Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said there are about 17,000 Dreamers in Colorado.
Metropolitan State University President Janine A. Davidson said the campus is home to some 300 Dreamers. Galvan, who attended Friday’s meeting, is a Dreamer himself. He said he doesn’t have any doubt that Gardner is supportive of Dreamers.
“But we have seen this tradition among Republicans, even in the past two decades, of really not standing up and working with and for immigrant communities and really only when it’s become convenient,” Galvan said. “Senator Gardner, for the most part, has been super quiet on immigration. As of late, he has been more vocal on the issue as it comes to Dreamer.”
Galvan said he and others in the immigrant advocacy community would like to see Gardner “evolve” from his usual talking point to keep borders secure. He called for broader immigration reform paying attention to all types of undocumented people.
Figures from New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy organization, suggest there are 26,160 eligible DACA residents in Colorado. They estimated 95 percent of the DACA-eligible population in the state is employed.