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"We're scared": 13,000+ DACA recipients living in Colorado face uncertain future after court ruling

13,000+ DACA recipients living in Colorado face uncertain future after court ruling
13,000+ DACA recipients living in Colorado face uncertain future after court ruling 02:38

Dozens gathered at Colorado's capitol Thursday to protest a federal appeals court decision Wednesday, which said the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — or DACA — policy is illegal. The decision makes life uncertain for 594,120 people living in the U.S. under DACA status, and for 13,180 of those "Dreamers" living in Colorado. 

"I'm definitely afraid, I think a lot of DACA recipients, we try to put on a strong face, but deep down, we're worried, we're scared, because we built our lives here," said 22-year-old DACA recipient Franco Orellana, who showed up to Thursday's protest. "I was brought over with my family when I was one year old; I actually didn't know I was undocumented until I turned 12, and I tried to sign up for a college prep course and they asked for a social, and I didn't have one, and that was a rough night."


He says DACA has given him and his family members hope.

"DACA proved to be an opportunity, I was able to get a job, finish my degree, be the first college graduate in my family," Orellana said.

But his ability to stay is now in danger, following the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision Wednesday. It's a decision some legal experts question.

"The reality is that presidential administrations going back decades have had wide discretion in deciding who to prioritize for immigration law enforcement, and who to de-prioritize," said César García Hernández, an immigration law professor formerly teaching at the University of Denver, now teaching at the Ohio State University of Law. "Next is for this case to go right back to the federal court, in Texas, that has been considering DACA's legality for many years now, and the judge there, Judge Hanen, has issued a series of decisions that have found problems with DACA... I don't think that anybody's really expecting Judge Hanen to take a different view than the consistently critical, consistently skeptical view of DACA that he has shown."

He says the federal government can still renew existing DACA applications but remains prohibited from approving DACA status to new applicants.

Those currently benefitting from DACA had to prove they arrived in the U.S. by age 16 and before June 2007, studied in a U.S. school or served in the military, and lacked any serious criminal record.  

García Hernández also says the DACA case could very well end up in the Supreme Court, but that could take years.

"I think the Biden administration is facing a really steep, uphill climb to defend DACA, so our eyes really should be turning to Congress... they ultimately have all the power to remedy the limbo status of these hundreds of thousands of people," García Hernández said. 

That's something Dreamers like Orellana are hoping for.

"For all congresspeople listening, all representatives listening, I want to say, we're tired of being pawns, we need a solution, and we need it fast," Orellana said. "We need immigration reform now."

Congressional action would also be important for Dreamers to see a path to citizenship, something the current DACA policy does not offer. That action would be tough, given years of opposition from many Republicans, who have said DACA is an overreach of the federal government's immigration powers. 

The Biden administration, in the meantime, has vowed to fight this appeals court decision "vigorously."

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