- Associated Press - Saturday, June 17, 2017

FRISCO, Colo. (AP) - Moving with family to Summit County from her native Mexico two decades ago, Estefania Baray was like countless others who immigrated to the United States as children. It didn’t occur to her that it might have been unlawful.

The 25-year-old Breckenridge resident who, like her siblings, came up through the Summit School District and now attends Colorado Mountain College, wasn’t clear on why obtaining a typical high school job wasn’t allowed. As a person living in the country without legal permission, she would learn, she would face any number of challenges despite being an active contributor to her community.

For the past few years, Baray and her two sisters have been able to receive legal status through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, process enacted by President Obama in June 2012 through executive order. For these longtime county residents, it’s been life changing.

“DACA opens doors to so many opportunities and we really wanted to be able to do everything we could,” said Baray, who since September has worked at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center as a bilingual health insurance navigator. Before that, “we were always afraid to apply for a job, couldn’t study to become someone in life, couldn’t provide for my children and I was not able to get a good job. I had to be paid practically under the table, only tips instead of a paycheck.”

The Pew Research Center previously estimated 1.1 million unauthorized immigrants youths are eligible for the DACA program of the 4.4 million under the age of 30 believed to be in the country. Nearly 850,000 applications have been submitted since the policy went into effect a month after Obama announced it, and about 87 percent of those applications have been approved for the two-year renewable work permit and deferment from deportation.

Ending DACA, however, was a campaign promise of President Trump. Where that stands, and what might take its place, remains uncertain, but that inspired Summit County leadership to step up and support the community’s immigrant population.

In Colorado, at least half a million immigrants work and pay taxes, and thousands of children brought to the state illegally with family or guardians before their 16th birthdays have taken advantage of DACA in the past five years. As a result, the Board of County Commissioners recently adopted a resolution voicing their collective concern that should DACA be canceled, Summit’s youth would be put at risk.

The motion notes that better than 14 percent of the county’s total permanent residents are of Hispanic origin - part of a non-white population increase of 54 percent according to the most up-to-date U.S. Census data. Recognizing the vital role immigrants play in the local tourism economy, Summit issued the resolution on May 23 just ahead of the start of the national Immigrant Heritage Month.

“It was definitely motivated by just all the current concerns and fears by immigrant families, and the fact that they are absolutely integral and central members of our communities and our workforce,” said Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier. “Our county could not function without them.”

As of the last couple weeks, to aid the communal effort, the Family & Intercultural Resource Center is covering the fees of those who meet the requirements to petition the federal government for DACA status after receiving funds from a donor to offer the assistance program. Legal and application processing costs for DACA can run between $700 and $1,300, and FIRC didn’t want money to be the determining factor for those in need.

“At the federal level, the future of immigration is very unpredictable,” said Tamara Drangstveit, the nonprofit’s executive director. “FIRC is all about helping support families to be stable. In that area specifically, helping pursue legal pathways, DACA is one of the very clear ways kids can gain access to legal status, so we really wanted to support that.”

The financial support, like the application process, demands meeting several qualifications.

Meanwhile, Baray and her siblings are each into their DACA renewals to - for the time being - ensure status to live and work in America lawfully. They can now possess a driver’s license, visit relatives back home in Chihuahua when they are ill without worries of being denied re-entry, and pursue school and their individual careers.

Baray’s older sister just graduated from CMC with her nursing degree in May and her younger sister completed her associate’s degree from CMC and is also aiming for a degree in nursing. And while working at FIRC guiding people through the complex health insurance system, Baray is striving toward her associate’s as well.

“It’s still hard, it’s difficult,” she said. “(DACA) is helping. A license is maybe not status - and it doesn’t change it - but makes you feel you deserve to be here even though your social (security) doesn’t say so.”

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Information from: Summit Daily News, http://www.summitdaily.com/

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