DACA: One Step Closer to the Dream
DREAMers. To many we represent a threat to the status quo and to rights they feel entitled to as citizens. To others, such as President Barack Hussein Obama, we are “striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity.” To the majority of people, however, we are essentially invisible, living in the shadows afraid of being recognized as undocumented immigrants which would then place them in danger of being deported. While a consensus surrounding how to actually address the immigration problem that currently exists in this country has not been reached, few can deny that something must be done. Indeed, the state of uncertainty in which undocumented immigrants find themselves is of great importance and though no immigration bill has been passed, President Obama passed an Executive Order on June 15, 2012.
The Executive Order, better known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, allows undocumented immigrants under the age of 31 who came before their sixteenth birthday, were physically present on June 15, 2012, are currently in high school or have attained a GED, and have not committed a felony to request a work permit. A complete explanation of DACA can be found here, and the Spanish version here.
This work permit offers young undocumented immigrants the possibility of having a “clean start” without the need to resort to illegal means of working or without the possibility of going on to college. After all, a major problem that many otherwise successful undocumented students have faced is that of being unable to afford college. This is due to the fact that in the majority of states, undocumented students must pay out-of-state tuition to attend public institutions despite having lived there the majority of their lives. Private institutions, while willing to meet full demonstrated need of undocumented students who apply as international students, are usually difficult to be admitted into. The likelihood of international students being admitted to private institutions further declines when the institution has more limited means and is consequently need-sensitive. In which case, undocumented students must compete with other international students for the limited funds available. This is due to the fact that the federal government provides no financial aid to undocumented students, thus forcing private institutions to provide all of the financial aid they plan on giving the student from their own private funds. Undocumented students find this particularly frustrating because the majority of us come from low-income households and cannot afford to pay for public college, let alone a private education. Ironically, the schools that are hardest to get into also offer the greatest amount of financial aid, forcing DREAMers not only to overcome the obstacles that any other student faces and the struggles of being an undocumented student, but additionally excelling to the extent that Harvard or Yale will admit them. Though DACA is by no means a permanent solution to this pressing issue, it does represent an opportunity to afford college tuition and legally practice the degrees that undocumented students have already earned by offering a two-year, renewable work permit.
DACA also represents a shift in Washington. President Obama is now echoing what DREAMers have been expressing for years: we too are American. As President Obama put it, “they are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” These sentiments were further reinforced on Tuesday night when he spoke at a Hispanic high school in Las Vegas. It was there that President Obama announced that he has full intentions of signing into law a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration bill that would grant undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. a path to citizenship so long as they have been law-abiding members of their communities, have paid taxes, pay a fine for crossing the border illegally or overstaying their visas, and are willing to wait long enough to attain their citizenship “behind all the folks who are trying to come here legally.”
These are exciting times for a population of American society who have thus far been left to live in the shadows. Students interested in applying to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program should visit Own the Dream, a website dedicated to providing information to undocumented students about DACA eligibility, DACA workshops and a tool that allows students to find legal help. While no immigration reform has passed yet, one can expect that it will in the near future and that it will bring about greater prosperity not only for the immigrant community but for this country.