By Jasmin Ramirez, Roaring Fork School District Board of Education representative, and Angela Cobián , former Treasurer of the Denver Board of Education
The COVID-19 pandemic has strained and tested us. As leaders in our communities, in Denver and the Roaring Fork Valley, we have seen firsthand the devastating impact of the pandemic on our students and their families. As first generation American leaders, we have also seen the disproportionate impact of COVID within our own families and respective immigrant communities. From the urban core to the mountain valleys of Colorado, the burden of the pandemic has been even greater for many undocumented students and their families.
We will never forget moments like spending the summer working on college application essays with a cousin-constituent, and being unable to answer when she asked, “What will happen to me if immigration reform doesn’t pass when I graduate this May (2022)? I don’t have a social security number.” Or the pleas of parents who are desperate to help their children through a renewal process and those who call to ask “What are our options?”
Beyond the stress of the pandemic, Colorado’s 8,000 undocumented K-12 students and the 93,000 U.S. citizen children living in Colorado with an undocumented person deal with daily anxiety and fear of separation from their families and homes in Colorado due to congressional inaction on immigration reform. The only solution to keep these families safe and together is for Congress to finally provide Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, essential workers and all undocumented immigrants with an earned pathway to citizenship.
Many of Colorado’s undocumented students are classified as “Dreamers,” young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has provided temporary protections for many Dreamers, including 14,000 in Colorado, but these protections are limited, under threat and the majority of current K-12 undocumented students are ineligible for the program due to arbitrary restrictions. This limits their ability for future success and, compounding on that, many undocumented students and their families who work in essential industries were denied state and federal aid because of their immigration status. The personal, professional, mental and financial stresses of the pandemic and being undocumented are immense.
This presents a unique and difficult challenge for educators, students and parents across our state. How are we supposed to convince our students that they should invest in their future if our immigration system fails to provide them with opportunities to succeed?
Our students, if given the chance, have the potential to make incredible contributions to our communities. Further, their parents deserve citizenship not only because their essential labor kept Colorado going during the pandemic; but also, because of their inherent self worth. Our students are the future of our country, their parents are our backbone, and by investing in and empowering them, we will ensure that we have a strong and healthy democracy for many years to come.
Congress must urgently recognize the challenges students are facing and their potential by establishing a pathway to citizenship. We were able to become public leaders because this country gave our parents a chance with the Immigration Relief and Control Act of 1987, the last time comprehensive immigration reform passed. Congress now has the opportunity to pass immigration reform through the budget reconciliation process to establish a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students and their families and begin fixing the many problems that have plagued our immigration system and contributed to the situation our students find themselves in today.
We are grateful that Colorado’s congressional leaders, Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, and Representatives Jason Crow, Joe Neguse and Diana DeGette, have proven themselves allies of our immigrant communities. Through the budget reconciliation process, our lawmakers have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pass long overdue reforms that change the lives our undocumented students and their families across our nation.
We remain confident that our legislators will stand firm and keep up the fight for the inclusion of immigration reforms in the Build Back Better legislation and ensure that our students can begin looking to the future where they can pursue their dreams in the same way we have, as daughters of immigrants.