Polis: Should Supreme Court rule against DACA, Colorado can do little to protect Dreamers

Polis considers more legal aid in anticipation of U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could strip deportation protections for Dreamers.

North High School students march toward downtown Denver on Sept. 5, 2017 in support of young immigrants known as Dreamers. (Photo by Tina Griego)

Gov. Jared Polis said the state is limited in what it can do to help the thousands of young, unauthorized immigrants, known as Dreamers, who could face deportation as the Trump administration seeks to undo an Obama-era immigration program. 

The governor spoke at a news conference Thursday in response to an anticipated ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that could eliminate protections for the roughly 15,000 people in Colorado who rely on the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. That ruling is expected sometime next spring. 

It will be up to Congress, he said, to address the fate of Dreamers, who now have temporary protection from deportation and permission to work and study in the U.S. Because immigration law is a federal responsibility, there is little the state can do to protect DACA recipients, Polis said. 

“There is no state substitute for DACA,” Polis told reporters.

He said he’s considering offering DACA beneficiaries access to legal aid, which immigration advocates agree is needed. Money for such aid was not included in his 2020 budget request. 

“At this point, it is too early to discuss specifics as we are still navigating what this could look like,” said Conor Cahill, a spokesman for the governor. 

Polis deflected questions about other possible reforms at the state level to protect undocumented immigrants. He has long opposed state efforts to limit cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE, something that immigration advocates want. Polis said multiple times on the campaign trail in 2018 that he would not sign any bill that promoted statewide “sanctuary policies.” Such decisions, he said, should be up to local governments.  

One reform considered last session would have allowed undocumented immigrants to contact law enforcement and emergency services without fear of deportation. But the immigration reform bill failed before it was even introduced, in part because it lacked Polis’s support. 

Reformers felt the timing was right. Democrats control both chambers of the Colorado legislature and the state had just elected Polis, who founded schools for immigrant children and was a strong supporter in Congress of immigration reform that would have provided a path to citizenship.

With DACA’s legality now under Supreme Court review, the stakes will be even higher this coming year. 

Colorado has nearly 15,000 DACA recipients, according to a Center for American Progress analysis of U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey data. Their average age upon arriving in the U.S. was six years old. The data also found that Colorado’s Dreamers are parents to 7,000 U.S.-born children. 

“We’re going to have to respond somehow,” Denise Maes, the policy director for ACLU of Colorado, told The Colorado Independent. “I do hope there is some change of minds within the governor’s office on this issue.”

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