Metro State University helps Dreamers and others navigate red tape amid anxiety over DACA’s future

Scholarships and other resources were available at the fair to help undocumented immigrants.

Tables set up with information on immigrant resources during a fair at Metro State University on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Tables set up with information on immigrant resources during a fair at Metro State University on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Metropolitan State University senior Pablo Chavira tries to focus on things he can control. Like his upcoming student teaching gig. It will give him a chance to teach at his high school alma mater, George Washington.

It’s an opportunity for the Spanish and K-12 education major to get real-world experience, valuable stuff for when he starts looking for a job after he graduates. And it’s here where he ends up backed up against a thought he tries not to think about: whether or not he will even be able to keep living, let alone work, in the United States.

Chavira, 25, has temporary legal status in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA, because he was brought to the country from Mexico as a child. He was one of 100 people who attended an immigrants resource clinic hosted by the university on Thursday. The fair included resources and one-on-one consultations for how people can renew their DACA applications.

Chavira is one of nearly 800,000 “Dreamers” in the U.S. and now have temporary legal status despite being undocumented. Roughly 18,000 Dreamers live in Colorado.

Two years ago this month, the Trump administration announced it was ending the program, promoting outcry and legal battles. The program’s fate is uncertain.

“I think it’s terrifying, the fact that it’s possible it will be taken away,” Chavira said. If he dwells on it too much, he ends up growing anxious.

That’s something Gregor Mieder, director of immigrant service at MSU, said he’s been seeing more since Trump’s election in 2016.

“There is more focus on the support that exists,” Mieder said. “There is more need for mental health resources, just because students are now facing situations that are pretty traumatic for them and their families.”

The downtown Denver skyline as seen from the Tivoli Brewing taphouse's patio on the Auraria campus. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The downtown Denver skyline as seen from the Tivoli Brewing taphouse's patio on the Auraria campus. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mieder said MSU is home to roughly 1,100 students who are undocumented but receive in-state tuition under a state program. Some of those students are DACA recipients.

Mieder and Fryda Faugier Ferreira, the MSU campus advisor for the Denver Scholarship Foundation, greeted a combination of students and everyday people seeking information about renewal. Twenty-three scholarships were made available for students to pay their $495 DACA renewal application. Chavira was among the recipients.

“I love MSU Denver,” Chavira said. “I’ve gotten to meet people who are understanding … this school has been such a saving grace.”

DACA’s fate now rests in the Supreme Court.

When his administration made the announcement to end DACA in 2017, Trump called on Congress to act.

“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” President Trump said at the time in a statement. “But we must also recognize that we are a nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”

Fast forward to this summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the administration’s appeal to end the program. It essentially started a clock on the high court’s potential decision on the program. The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in November, with a final decision expected next summer.

Ariadna Ochoa Magallanes leads a "Know Your Rights" discussion on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, at Metro State University in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Ariadna Ochoa Magallanes leads a "Know Your Rights" discussion on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, at Metro State University in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Marissa Molina, Colorado State Immigration Manager for the immigration advocacy organization FWD.us, said the chairs lining the hallways at the Jordan Student Success Building were full before the event started. FWD.us provided a grant for the DACA renewal workshops on Thursday.

Molina sits on the Board of Trustees for the university and is also a DACA recipient. She was initially worried no one would show up. But quite a few people did, including one person who showed up from as far away as Alamosa.

“I think this clinic really speaks to the safety that this university has provided for undocumented students, for Latinx students, for immigrant students in general, because students showed up,” Molina said. “It was clear that this felt like a safe space for people to come and show up.”

The application process takes about three months to complete, with employment authorization cards lasting two years. Molina and others are advising people to renew as soon as possible.

She called DACA’s impact “life-changing.” It’s perhaps why after Trump’s election, after he campaigned on hardline immigration policies, she found herself waking up in the middle of the night. She said she couldn’t breathe.

“And it was this feeling of — are my days counted?” Molina said. “What does the road look like to me ahead, and wanting to do everything I could to fight as hard as I could to make sure that we could keep those protections.”

“I know that this fight is much larger than this employment card,” Molina added. “It’s the ability for us to continue to be part in every way of the communities and the families that we have been a part of for a really long time.”

Mieder said he’s heard from students who are now homeless to avoid staying in a home and potentially endangering other people in their families.

“A lot of it is actually peripheral and not the sort of besides, direct sort of psychological impact,” Mieder said.

Sheila Galindo, 26, is a junior at MSU studying social work. She’s felt the sadness and fear over her future like many of her undocumented classmates. Another worry brought up directly by the president is her belief that he’s made it easier for people to express their unwelcoming feelings toward immigrants.

She worried about how classmates, co-workers or even professors would react to knowing her status.

“I feel like he’s put a mic on the hate,” Galindo said.

Still, she has no plans at the moment to stop working or stop her education.

“I have to survive like we have been surviving for generations,” Galindo said.

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