The end of summer is an exciting time for students as they connect with classmates, begin new classes, and continue to pursue education to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to have that same optimism when looking towards my own future. I am an undocumented immigrant, meaning that nothing is certain for me. When I was a child, my family and I left Mexico and came to Colorado in search of a better life. If Congress fails to provide Dreamers like me with an earned pathway to citizenship, my hard work could be for nothing if I’m forced from my home here in the U.S. before I have the chance to truly begin my career. This is unfair and harmful to me and all Coloradans. We need change so that the hard work of thousands of undocumented immigrants in Colorado is not wasted.
This past May, I graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver with the intention of pursuing a career in STEM. Ideally, my dream is to someday work as a science professor at a university. I’ve put in all of the hard work that is needed, from volunteering in an elementary school to spending countless hours doing lab research, and I have excelled in my classes and graduated, but it is still not enough. As a Dreamer who has not yet received legal status, I am prevented from getting the necessary licensing to be hired in this field. Unlike many of my classmates, who have already begun their careers following graduation, my status has forced me to take an alternative path working outside of my field to make ends meet.
Sadly, my challenges are shared by many. There are an estimated 8,000 undocumented K-12 students in Colorado who lack the protections that they need to continue pursuing higher education and eventually join the workforce. Many of these students came to America as young children with their parents, and while the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is meant to protect them, it has unfortunately allowed thousands to fall through the cracks.
There are almost 14,000 DACA recipients in Colorado, and they contribute greatly to our communities and our economy. And thirteen percent of all STEM workers in Colorado are immigrants, but as it stands, I will not be able to be a part of that group. Denver and Boulder were also just recently listed as top markets for STEM talent in the United States. It would be beneficial for all Coloradans if we are allowed to stay, learn, work and give back to our communities, but lawmakers need to make this a reality.
Undocumented immigrants like me are in need of an earned pathway to citizenship from Congress to be able to fully chase after our own American dreams and continue making Colorado stronger. Recently, Congress made progress towards achieving that goal by including a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status holders, and essential workers in the much-anticipated budget resolution package. On top of that, the Dream Act, which would provide that pathway for Dreamers, is also on the table. I hope that Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper continue to acknowledge the urgency of this situation and work with their colleagues to provide a long-overdue pathway to citizenship for immigrants like me.
Until every undocumented student feels like their studies, their extracurriculars, their research, and their essays are worth the effort and their well-earned qualifications are recognized, we cannot stop fighting for them. My dream is to one day lend my talent and intelligence to a field that I am passionate about, but unless something changes soon, a dream is all it will be.
Karen Nuñez is a recent graduate of the Metropolitan State University of Denver.