Marissa Molina needs Congress to act.
The former Miss Strawberry Days grew up in Glenwood Springs after moving from Mexico at age 9. Following high school, she graduated summa cum laude from Fort Lewis College in Durango.
Now 25, Molina was one of nine educators covered by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals who was honored by the White House in 2015 as a "Champion of Change."
But her DACA registration expires next summer, meaning Molina will no longer be able to work legally in the United States, and she will be forced back into the shadows as an undocumented worker in the only country she's ever really known.
President Donald Trump last month rescinded the executive order signed by Barack Obama in 2012 that allowed children brought to the U.S. illegally to study and work here legally. Thursday was the final deadline for DACA renewals.
"It's incredibly important to let people know there's a very real deadline," Molina said. "My DACA will expire in the summer of 2018."
"Our stories are powerful," she said of people covered by DACA. "When people are able to put a face to the issue, you approach the issue differently."
Trump gave Congress six months to find a legislative solution to possible deportation facing so-called "Dreamers," and one of those solutions could be the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017 sponsored by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin – a bill that provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.
Molina was one of five Colorado Dreamers who spent part of this past week in Washington asking members of Congress to pass the law to protect nearly 800,000 DACA recipients – more than 17,000 of whom are in Colorado.
The fly-in event, sponsored by the tech industry immigration reform group FWD.us, included 100 DACA recipients from 25 states who are studying and working in education, engineering, medicine, science, social advocacy and other fields.
All of them, according to FWD, are also active in their communities as mentors in schools, local churches and on sports teams.
Molina said the Colorado group was able to meet in person with Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, but Republican Sen. Cory Gardner was unavailable. Both Colorado senators are co-sponsors of the Dream Act – which originally stood for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors.
The group also met Wednesday with a pair of Front Range lawmakers — Republican Rep. Mike Coffman and Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter on the House side — and they attended a Dream Act press conference with primary Senate sponsors Graham and Durbin.
"We are so grateful for Rep. Coffman's leadership and support of Dreamers," said Molina, now a Denver resident who serves as the community engagement manager with Rocky Mountain Prep charter schools in Denver and Aurora. "What he shared with us is that he wants to make sure that whatever bill gets voted on has that aspect of border security without the internal enforcement of more ICE raids and all of that."
That may be difficult to achieve in the House, where Republican immigration hawks are closely following Trump administration principles aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration and limiting work visas and other forms of legal immigration.
Molina's group was unable to meet with Republican Rep. Scott Tipton, whose 3rd Congressional District includes most of the state's Western Slope. Tipton has made it clear that he considers DACA unconstitutional but that he has sympathy for the plight of Dreamers brought here at a very young age who know no other country.
"While I do not support the unilateral DACA program," Tipton said in prepared statement, "I believe Congress must act to develop a compassionate and commonsense solution for the children who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents. These individuals have grown up in the United States and are now upstanding, valued members of our communities. They should not be punished for a decision that was made by their parents years ago."
Molina, whose parents now live in New Castle, says she will continue to work toward a meeting with Tipton and other Republican lawmakers working on how best to deal with DACA.
"I personally would love to have a conversation with him and share my story," Molina said. "I've lived in different parts of his district, and I've been a part of that community for a really long time, and … I hope that I am able to share my story with him at some point."
Molina, who said she'll soon be returning to Washington with a group of educators to advocate for DACA recipients, lauds Coffman's nuanced understanding of the issue – the fact that Dreamers do not live in a vacuum and have many friends and family members who are undocumented.
"He was very clear that he supports Dreamers and a comprehensive solution in general," Molina said, adding he emphasized that, "'We don't want to help you at the cost of other people who you also love and care about.' He has the right mindset when it comes to addressing this issue. Most importantly he's showing really great leadership in making sure that his colleagues in the Republican Party are also coming to the table about this discussion."
Molina said she'll also be at Eagle Valley High in Gypsum on Oct. 14, leading a session for Latino students at a diversity conference.
Content orignally published by the Post Independent on October 7, 2017.