by Libby James
“I felt as if I had a dirty little secret to keep when I was growing up,” said Fernanda, a 20-year-old psychology major with a minor in ethics studies at Colorado State University. She was born in Mexico City and came to the United States with her parents when she was a year old. Since the age of 16, she has been enrolled in the Development, Relief, and Education Act for Minors, commonly known as DACA.
Founded in 2001, the act was established for young people brought to the United States from another country as children without proper documentation, and who grew up in this country. The goal was to make it possible for these young people to get work permits, a college education, and eventually a path to citizenship. DACA young people come from 24 countries around the world.
In 2010, Congress failed to pass the DACA Act, so it has never become law. In 2012 President Obama initiated a temporary program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allowed DACAs to be safe from deportation for two years. Today DACA students pay a $495 fee to renew their status every two years and often have lawyer’s fees to pay in addition.
Obama’s action was in the form of an executive order. It did not create a pathway to citizenship and was subject to being rescinded by a future president. It only meant that 800,000 DACA young people were temporarily allowed to stay in the country.
In 2017, President Donald Trump ended the DACA program and initiated a gradual phase-out making participants potentially eligible for deportation in 2020. The issue of whether or not the Constitution gives Trump the right to end DACA will soon go before the Supreme Court. A decision is expected in the summer of 2020.
Fernanda, an only child, has been living with uncertainty since she was old enough to understand her situation. “We feared that something as simple as a traffic stop by a police officer could mean that we’d be deported,” she said. She continues to deal with that uncertainty today.
Her response has been to become active in the issue, joining Dreamers United at CSU when she was a freshman. She continues to be active in the organization and is also on the board of directors for Community DREAMer Fund, a local organization formed to provide legal and financial support and provide a sense of community for DACAs.
Because these young people, ages 16 through 30 are not documented, they are not eligible for any sort of government aid or employment benefits. CSU provides only limited emergency funds for them.
Community DREAMer Fund came into being in 2017. Zach Martinez, the pastor of Sojourn Mennonite Church in Fort Collins, explains that the Community DREAMer Fund grew out of the Interfaith Solidarity and Accompaniment Coalition (ISAAC), formed by several religious organizations after the rescinding of DACA and several other executive orders affecting undocumented individuals.
The mission of the fund is to ensure that undocumented students remain in school. Even small donations go a long way, providing for such items as food, help with rent or emergencies such as a broken tooth that may keep students out of classes.
Sojourn Mennonite Church is the fiscal agent for Community DREAMers. Board members are from the DREAMer community, church members, and community stakeholders. “We have no overhead which means that 100 percent of donations go directly to supporting the needs of Dreamers,” Martinez said. To donate to the fund go to: sojournermennonite.org/give/dreamers/
The only requirement for receiving aid is to be undocumented, a resident of Larimer County, a student at CSU or Front Range Community College or a high school student enrolled in Poudre, Thompson Valley, or Estes Park School Districts.
Community DREAMer Fund welcomes and assists students who are not eligible for DACA. Applications are no longer being accepted for DACA, leaving these students in a more difficult position.
Sojourn Mennonite Church meets at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church building, 2000 Stover St. in Fort Collins. The church can be reached at: sojournmennonite.org.