"Most people have kind of forgotten about it," says Nayda Benitez about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program that gives undocumented youth temporary protection from deportation and permits to work/study in the United States. "But for me and the 17,000 other beneficiaries (in Colorado), we think about it every single day," she told the crowd gathered on a cold Thursday afternoon in front of City Hall.
Benitez is a DACA recipient with a scholarship at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Nearly year after President Donald Trump, an unabashed nativist, took office, Benitez is on a desperate timeline. Trump announced the end of DACA in September, meaning she's got about a year before her protection expires, leaving her vulnerable to enforcement actions, including deportation back to Mexico, a country she barely remembers.
As soon as that announcement came out, Benitez came together with other local Dreamers, as DACA recipients are sometimes called, to form the "Colorado Springs Dream Team." Since then, in between work, school and family obligations, the group's members have spent time making advocacy posters, dogging their representatives and trying to rally broad support for their cause.
At the rally Thursday, Benitez asked attendees to urge their representatives in Congress, especially Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, to sponsor and support a "clean" Dream Act (meaning, legislation to create a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients without also boosting interior enforcement or funding the southern border wall).
She and two other young woman, all college students, wore graduation gowns to symbolize their aspirations, but emphasized that their value is "much more than that," tearing off their gowns to make the point. "We need to get away from this toxic Dreamer narrative," says Benitez, explaining that her brother, who didn't have the opportunity to go to college and works in construction, is just as valuable as she is, even though she's the higher-achiever by conventional standards. The speakers were adamant, too, that their parents aren't criminals and that passing a "clean" Dream Act is just one of many reforms needed to fix what they describe as a dysfunctional immigration system.