DENVER — Immigrant organizations and undocumented people living in Colorado chalked up a win for a brighter future under Senate Bill 21-077.
On Friday, Gov. Jared Polis signed the bill into law, which will allow immigrants to pursue a professional career despite their legal status.
SB 21-077 will allow undocumented Coloradan’s seeking higher education to obtain a professional license with the Colorado Department of Education and each division of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agency. The bill eliminates the requirement of legal status to obtain a license, certification or registration in fields like education, health, childcare and more.
Marissa Molina, the Colorado State Director for Fwd.US, shared the news with countless students who feared a future of uncertainty after spending years pursuing a degree. She says before the bill was passed, immigrants living in the U.S. protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or Temporary Protected Status were barred from practicing the professions.
“With the pandemic, we have seen how our health care systems have been stressed, and I personally know DACA recipients who were doing internships at hospitals and helping out in COVID units but weren’t actually able to get that nursing certification,” Molina said.
Duvia Ortega and Monserrat Ariza testified at the bill hearing. Both are pursuing a degree in education at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Ortega moved to the U.S. from Durango, Mexico, ten years ago. She didn’t qualify for DACA, buts she didn’t let her immigration status and uncertain future deter her from pursuing her dream career.
“I really wanted to be a teacher. This has been my dream since I was a little girl,” Ortega said.
She is on track to graduate in 2022.
Ariza was born in Mexico City. She was brought to the U.S. when she was 7 years old 21 years ago. She’s a DACA recipient. Her goal is to provide speech therapy for autistic children.
Ariza admits at times, she questioned the countless hours she’s poured into school and the thousands of dollars she invested in a future without promise.
“It was scary, and I was discouraged many times,” Ariza said. “I didn’t know what the end of it would be.”
Ortega and Ariza felt a wave of relief when they learned SB 21-077 was signed into law.
“It just makes me really happy and excited and thrilled to have my license — to be able to be able to do something in life,” Ortega said.
Ortega went to school in a Hispanic community, but she says growing up, her teachers didn’t look like her or share the same culture, which made it difficult to connect. It’s a trend she’s hoping to change.
Ariza decided to pursue a career in helping children with disabilities when she discovered there were few Spanish-speaking speech therapists.
“I am going to be able to work with the children that I want to work in the community, help my community which is Spanish-speaking immigrants,” Ariza said.
She is set to graduate from MSU in December 2021.
Molina says thousands of students will benefit from the bill and help diversify the Colorado workforce while filling jobs in high demand.