Dear Mr. President: Don’t deport American DREAMers.
Earlier this week, I woke up to a headline that left a pit in my stomach.
On the heels of a slew of executive orders designed to make good on the president’s election promises, White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced that another was coming “very shortly.” This one would likely seal the fate of an estimated 2.1 million hard-working, undocumented young people who qualify for work permits and protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — or DACA — protection the new president vowed to rescind while he was on the campaign trail.
Every year, about 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school. For most, life in America as an American is all they know. They have done nothing wrong. They did what was expected of them and stayed out of trouble. But even the highest achievers among them face significant hurdles to leading productive lives and getting into college, the military and the workforce simply because their parents brought them here, as children, outside the legal immigration process.
Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing from one of these young people, and his words stuck with me. While speaking on a panel of recent high school graduates at a Broad Center alumni convening, Jorge shared his hopes and fears about his so-called DREAMer status, having arrived in the U.S. eight years ago.
My whole life is here. I don’t have anywhere else to go. And now they say they want me out…
In Guatemala, I would not have even expected to go to college… It’s really scary because I don’t even belong to that country anymore. I belong to this country. I learned English. I graduated from high school. I’m working on a career. I worked really hard to get where I am, and this is the life that I want — even with the limitations I have because I wasn’t born here.
I just hope to have the opportunity to keep contributing so I can show everyone how far I can go. But ever since the election, I am scared of what will happen.
For young people like Jorge, all of the effort they’ve put in and struggles they’ve endured to reach their goals could be taken away with a single stroke of the presidential pen.
Thirty-five years ago, Plyler v. Doe guaranteed all children in the United States the right to a free K-12 public education, regardless of immigration status. I am proud of the dozens of members of the Broad Center’s alumni network — in red states as well as blue — who refuse to monitor the citizenship status of the families they serve and have further committed to maintaining their schools as safe zones.
For the past five years, hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth have counted on DACA to provide them with the security to pursue a brighter future and build good, productive lives for themselves and their families. Even for those not on the college track, DACA allows them to participate more fully in the workforce, leading to higher earnings, which translate to higher tax revenue and economic growth. One has to assume that’s why the president said in December that his team was developing a plan that will “make people happy.” But a series of White House documents leaked last month suggest a complete repeal of the DACA program is still on the table.
It’s no wonder that DACA recipients remain fearful about their futures. Last week, Maryuri, a college freshman who was valedictorian of her high school class, sent this letter to our staff:
To The Broad Center team:
Before Election Day, I remember feeling confident that he wouldn’t win.
When he did, I called my mom, who hid her fears by telling me that he wouldn’t be able to go through with everything he promised. My eight-year-old sisters were crying because they were afraid that our parents would be sent back to their respective countries.
I think that’s when reality hit me. My sisters could see that things were going to change. Because I am an AB540 student, I can receive state aid, which is the only reason I can attend college. But the current administration has sworn to take DACA away. If they do that, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay.
I worked so hard and — along with my parents — made so many sacrifices. Now, all of that is in jeopardy.
I am pre-med right now. I would like to attend medical school and later join Doctors Without Borders. I believe that I can contribute to this society in many ways, like the millions of other DREAMers who are simply working hard for a better future.
But in all honesty, while not being able to continue college worries me a lot, the fact that my family could be divided scares me more. My mother and I are both from Honduras, a country filled with rampant violence and corruption, where people’s lives are threatened every single day and where women aren’t given equal rights. My stepdad is from Mexico, and my siblings are U.S. citizens. So I also worry that they’ll end up in the foster system if my parents and I are deported.
Like Jorge, Maryuri came to this country through no fault of her own. And like Jorge, she is on track to do well in life. In fact, while only about two-thirds of America’s college students stay in school and complete their degrees, a researcher from the CATO Institute — one of the nation’s most conservative think tanks — recently reported on NPR’s Code Switch podcast that college persistence among DACA students is about 95 percent.
Whether they are on a college-bound path or not, no one should be forced to live in the shadows or shunted to the margins of our society when they want to contribute to our communities and to our country. It makes no sense for us to forgo the talents of hard-working young people like Jorge and Maryuri and millions of others. In DACA, we have a program that is working, for them and for America.
Too often, policymakers make decisions in vacuums. In education, our efforts are most effective when we listen to those most affected by our work: students, families and their communities. In immigration, as in education, we must demand that Washington listens to the youth who most need courageous leadership.
It’s time for this administration to put an end to the fear and uncertainty, acknowledge the contributions these young people are already making to our nation and extend their work permits and protection from deportation. It is the right thing to do.