The faces of DREAMERS in the Archdiocese of Denver

Colorado alone boasts 17,000 beneficiaries of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Among them are many young people who are working for the Archdiocese of Denver, Centro San Juan Diego and parishes across northern Colorado.

DACA is the temporary deferral of deportation and authorization to work for young people who were brought to the United States as minors. Those eligible for DACA had complete high school and be in possession of a clean criminal record.

Today, 87 percent of DREAMERS are employed, and six percent have started a new business. With their taxes, they contribute $433.4 billion to the cumulative country gross domestic product over 10 years.

Here are some of the testimonies of young people whose commitment and contribution have made a difference in the Archdiocese of Denver.

“I say with peace that I am not afraid”

Juan Carlos Reyes, 31, is the Director of Family Services for Centro San Juan Diego, a ministry of the Archdiocese of Denver. A native of Michoacán, Mexico, he was 13 when he arrived to the United States with his parents. “The beneficiaries of DACA are uncertain about what we are going to do and how life will change for us. But we remember that we have been in worse situations,” he told Denver Catholic en Espanol. “That is why I say with peace that I am not afraid.”

Juan Carlos Reyes, an Archdiocese of Denver employee affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) decision, poses for a portrait at St. John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization on September 8, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Today, Juan Carlos is a husband and father of three boys (ages 4, 5 and 6), and committed to not only taking advantage of every opportunity this country has offered him, but helping other Hispanics to do the same. A student of the Denver Catholic Biblical School, he has earned a bachelor’s degree in religious science and is currently studying a master’s in pastoral innovation.

In his position at Centro, he organizes ongoing formation courses and seminars to serve families, and he promotes higher education distance learning through a partnership between Centro San Juan Diego, Anáhuac University of Mexico City and Popular Autonomous University of the State of Puebla (UPAEP, for its initials in Spanish). Currently, over 100 students from the Hispanic community have earned or are earning bachelor’s degrees and preparing themselves to be leaders in their communities.

“You feel as if a stranger has your future in his hands”

Evelyn Pérez, 21, is the receptionist at Saint Joseph parish in Denver, and she credits DACA with everything she has accomplished in the past few years. A native of Guadalajara, Mexico, Evelyn arrived to the United States at nine months old. She has never lived outside of the United States since then. Her father worked as an electrician and her mother as a housekeeper to make ends meet.

Evelyn Perez, an Archdiocese of Denver employee affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) decision, poses for a portrait at St. Joseph Catholic Church on September 8, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Before DACA, Evelyn worked as a waitress at a Mexican restaurant. “It was not a very good job,” she told Denver Catholic en Espanol. “I had to work long hours, I felt used because due to my legal situation I could not get a better job.”

Thanks to DACA, she began working for Kaiser Permanente as an insurance specialist and is now studying criminology at the Arapahoe Community College. But her job and her education could all disappear if action is not taken to enshrine DACA into law.

“You feel as if a stranger has your future in his hands,” she said. “I would feel very bad if I could not work here anymore. It is very difficult. I just hope that God will take care of us all.”

“My parents left everything … to give me what they never received”

María del Rosario Valerio, 21, was born in Monterrey, Mexico, but only lived there nine months before her parents moved with her to the United States in 1996. Like many young people in her situation, high school wasn’t a time of dreaming of all the possibilities of the future. No, she remembers high school as a time of uncertainty: “I thought I wasn’t going to be able to progress, that I was going to remain stagnate.”

Maria Valerio, an Archdiocese of Denver employee affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) decision, poses for a portrait at St. John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization on September 8, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

With DACA, suddenly a path to success opened up before her, and she took full advantage. She is now studying toward her teacher certification so she can be a modern language teacher, and she works as a receptionist at Centro San Juan Diego.

And now she can fly, literally. “Thanks to DACA … I flew for the first time to the Prevención y Rescate (Prevention and Rescue) Catholic movement meeting in Los Angeles,” she told Denver Catholic en Espanol. She also took advantage of her new legal status to see Pope Francis when he visited the border town of Juarez, Mexico, last year.

“My parents left everything they had in Mexico to give me what they never received,” she said. “With the end of DACA I feel that dream of my parents, and my dream, is over.”

“My future family depends on DACA”

Juan Olivo, 24, is the leader of the young adult group at Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora. A native of Monterrey, Mexico, he was 14 years old when he arrived with his mother to the United States in 2006.

Queen of Peace Parish young adult leader Juan Olivo was affected by cancellation of DACA benefits. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

For Juan, DACA made him feel “very happy, because I was going to have opportunities as any other of the American citizen.” Currently Juan works in construction and repairs federal roads. It’s hard work, but he’s grateful for it. And he knows he wouldn’t have the opportunity to work for such a good company if he didn’t have a work permit.

Like many other beneficiaries of DACA, he sees his entire future as hanging in the balance as he watches and waits to see what will happen with the deferred action program. He recently asked his girlfriend, Génesis, to marry him, and she said yes. They will marry next year. She is also a DACA beneficiary, which means neither can help the other gain citizenship.

“I would like to form a family here in this country and keep my Cristian values,” he told Denver Catholic en Espanol. “In Mexico, there is a lot of violence, murders, injustice and corruption.

“The plans I have with my girlfriend and my future family depend on DACA, but I have faith that everything is going to be well.”

COMING UP: The faces of DREAMERS in the Archdiocese of Denver

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