Town, county DACA

The Jackson Town Council and Teton County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to allow DACA recipients to participate in the town and county's public housing programs. Councilor Jim Rooks was absent.

Town and county elected officials voted unanimously Monday to allow immigrants known as “Dreamers” to apply to purchase homes in Jackson Hole’s public housing program.

The Teton County Board of County Commissioners voted 5-0 and the Jackson Town Council voted 4-0 in favor of doing so.

Councilor Jim Rooks was absent.

“This is one of the easiest votes, and one I’m very proud to take,” Vice Mayor Arne Jorgensen said, adding that DACA recipients are “exactly the type of person that we want in our community.

“They’re hardworking, they’re clear, they’re articulate, they’re people that are working in critical jobs,” Jorgensen said. “I’m proud to be supportive of that.”

The two boards’ votes cemented changes to town of Jackson and Teton County housing rules and regulations that give recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the ability to apply to buy publicly subsidized or restricted housing in Jackson Hole for the first time. That includes “affordable” homes that are price-controlled for local workers based on how much money they make and “workforce” units that can sell for market prices but are reserved for households that make the majority of their income from Teton County businesses.

The unanimous vote came after about 10 people dialed into the virtual joint information meeting to provide public comment. Three were opposed, and at least six were in favor. Representatives from One22, and the Community Safety Network spoke in favor of the rule change, as did Jimmy Bartz, rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church of Jackson Hole.

Victor Hernandez, a DACA recipient and local ACLU employee, spoke about coming to the United States as a 6-year-old and struggling with housing as a child. Hernandez said he and other DACA recipients are now growing up and trying to live the American Dream.

But he said having DACA status can complicate that and urged the town and county to pass the change.

“Give us immigrants who grew up in Jackson the chance to live in their hometown,” Hernandez said. “Give them the chance to obtain the American dream.”

Anne Stalker was one of the people opposed.

“As far as I’m concerned, as a U.S. citizen and lover of Jackson and what we do for subsidized housing, that it should remain the same until there’s some kind of change on a federal level,” she said. “Until that happens, why muck it up?”

Soon after the town and county voted to open public comment on the change related to DACA in July, a Texas judge ruled that the Obama administration had violated federal administrative procedure laws in establishing DACA, a change that prevented the government from granting new applications but did not impact application renewals and Dreamers with existing status. The Biden administration has since appealed the decision, and Jorgensen has said — and repeated Monday — that he doesn’t want to hold local Dreamers responsible for the federal government’s back and forth over the national policy.

Before Monday’s vote, Dreamers were already able to rent “affordable” and “workforce” housing because town and county officials don’t ask for citizenship information for rentals.

And, with the vote behind them, DACA recipients with a valid social security number and employment authorization document should be able to join U.S. citizens and green card holders in the bid to purchase publicly administered “affordable” and “workforce” housing.

The reason for different citizenship requirements for renters and owners previously came down to financing.

Mortgage lenders traditionally ask about applicants’ citizenship status, and people applying to rent typically don’t take out loans.

But guidance from federally backed home mortgage companies has changed to allow DACA recipients to receive federally backed loans. That’s part of the reason the Jackson/Teton County Housing Department recommended the change.

Jorgensen reiterated that DACA recipients will not be treated any differently than other applicants for publicly-administered housing: “All we’re talking about here is ‘Do you get to submit an application?’ There’s no guarantee of getting anything there. You still go through the same selection process as anybody else would.”

The County Commission and Town Council have received a handful of public comments since they first opened a 45-day public comment period in July, with the majority in favor.

Those opposed to allowing DACA recipients to apply to purchase affordable housing questioned the direction the town and county were taking amid ongoing litigation over the DACA program’s legality, and said that housing in Teton County should be prioritized for U.S. residents and green card holders.

“Please do not get our county mixed up within this illegal DACA mess and keep your focus on matters that only benefit the U.S. citizen tax payers of Teton County,” Kevin Byrne wrote commissioners.

But immigration attorneys who wrote in to support the changes noted that DACA recipients “have not (and could not have) made the conscious choice to violate the immigration laws of the United States” because they were brought to the states as children.

Supportive commenters who didn’t identify as Dreamers viewed DACA recipients as integral parts of the community and workforce: College-educated counselors, teachers, nonprofit staff, medical professionals and more. And those who did identify as DACA recipients talked about their years going to school and working in Teton County but struggling to find housing like other community members.

“I want to continue to be your neighbor, friend, and most importantly continue to provide services to this community,” wrote Anahi Morillon, a DACA recipient and Jackson therapist. “Your vote can not only change my life, but also the life of other DACA recipients who contribute to this community.”

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

Teton County Reporter

Billy Arnold has covered government and policy since January 2020, sitting through hours of Teton County meetings so readers don't have to. He moonlights as a ski reporter, helps with pandemic coverage and sneaks away to climb when he can.

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