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Immigrant Heritage Month comes as DACA protections face a court challenge

 Motus Theater monologists Armando Peniche and Victor Galvan at the Buell Media Center in Denver.
Victor Galvan
Motus Theater monologists Armando Peniche and Victor Galvan at the Buell Media Center in Denver.

The Colorado state legislature passed a measure this session to prohibit state and local governments within Colorado from participating in the immigrant detention industry as a business partner or subcontractor.

While this new law may provide a measure of relief to undocumented or temporarily authorized immigrants residing in Colorado, lawmakers in other states are challenging hard-won gains.

That includes Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a federal program that gives temporary legal protection to some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

A federal judge in Texas is currently considering the future of the program as part of a long-running case.

Armando Peniche and Victor Galvan are two DACA recipients who share their stories through Boulder-based Motus Theater’s UndocuAmerica monologues project.

Peniche says, even in the best of circumstances, living with DACA forces one to plan one's life in two year increments.

"DACA is a renewable permit, but you have to renew it every two years, right, so me, Armando, as DACA recipient, I can't plan to buy a house in five years from now, right, because I don't know where I'll be in two years. Or school, right, I can't be like, 'okay, I'm gonna go to a four year school', but you don't even know if you're gonna be here for two more years, right," he said.

"So it's a huge challenge being in that, like living your life two years at a time, while also trying to maintain a perfect life, you know. Like we all of course should strive to stay out of trouble, live a perfect life. People make mistakes, you know, it's human nature, you know, but it's just a lot of pressure at times for people. Like you have to be a model citizen, live a perfect life, or in two years you might be gone, you know? It takes a toll mentally, physically, emotionally."

One of those elements of uncertainty is the pending ruling in a court case heard by US District Judge Andrew Hanen.

Motus Theater monologist Victor Galvan says this particular judge has a history of ruling against expanding legal protections for immigrants.

"Judge Hanen, he has been a tool and a strong arm for the conservatives in this country to move against executive orders like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and DAPA, which is the same program, but for parents, and immediately being challenged in the courts. I mean, DACA has been challenged in the courts by this specific judge many a time and now, the higher courts have said we're gonna let the lower courts rule," said Galvan.

"So it's now in his playing field and he's warming up to end this program. And I don't want to set fear in my community, but I also want to make sure that we're pivoting when we need to and preparing ourselves. So people need to be prepared if this program ends what this may mean for their life," he said.

Action from Congress could provide legal protections for the DACA program and a counterweight to judicial rulings.

But Congress has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform measures for around three decades.

Victor Galvan says both political parties have used the tenuous circumstances of millions of undocumented immigrants for political gains, and speaking directly to community members may be a more effective option for shifting the narrative.

"We are given hopes by the progressives, threatened by the conservatives, and then they pressure each other with those notions in order to make political gains with their bases. And so I think there's a lot of people who are having their heartstrings plucked in one way or the other for the gains of one political party or both. And so we really need to understand each other here," said Galvan.

"I am not reaching out to my community because they know what it's like to live in my shoes. They know. I'm reaching out to the other side, for those of our community that either refuse to learn or have no experiences that put them in that position to learn what it's like to be an immigrant in this country."

"And so this is why we do our monologues, why we perform across the state and now internationally, because we want to help people understand what it's like to live this kind of life, to help people understand that we are so much more alike than we are different, and that we're striving for the same thing," he said.

"We want to survive, we want to thrive, we want to build community. And I think there's these very pivotal moments in our monologues where people's eyes open and they realize how wrong they were to judge someone for the decisions that they made. How incredibly similar our paths are and how our humanity coincides in that way. That we want a better life for our community, for our friends, for our family, and that we're all wrestling with this political football that is not working for any of us."

"So I am reaching out to those folks who are cheering on our conservative counterparts who want to see us gone, because I know that I'm living in the same neighborhood where we have crappy water quality. We're living in the same communities where we're breathing the bad air, where our taxes are not being used for good, where we're being pitted against each other for jobs where we're not being paid enough. All of these problems are so universal to our bases, and for some reason, someone's whispering in their ear and turning them against their neighbor, and we need to fight that," said Galvan.

"I know that everyone that has worked against us can find common ground with us, and that's all we want is common ground to work for progress."

Fellow Motus monologist Armando Peniche thanks listeners for being there and listening to their story.

"Because that's exactly what we're talking about, right? Like taking the time to listen to someone's other story without judgment. Just being able to take it," he said.

"And I want to add that, you know, in this beautiful world of ours, you know, humans have only been here for what, a few thousand years, or depending on your belief, right? But I want to talk to your heart and be like, 'how do you wanna be remembered?' Immigration is, should be a right. You know, before we had borders, people were free to migrate for better opportunities, right? And when you have a group of people who are just trying to live, trying to provide for their children, for their families."

"You know many of us here in the US, many US citizens, you know, you don't, you can't know the experience of what that is like because that's not the cards that you were dealt," said Peniche.

"But I'm sure you can relate to an experience of, you know, what hunger feels like, what no opportunity feels like, you know, a bad day. So just reach out to humanity, to your hearts. And you know, like Victor said, we're trying to build community."

This story was shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including KSJD.