Though the debate surrounding repealing DACA continues in Washington, teachers must think about the dreamers in their schools now.
One of the most polarizing political topics in the United States surrounds the repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Barack Obama-era Homeland Security policy that allowed undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children (called dreamers) to be granted a grace period from facing deportation and renewable two-year work visas, providing them time to plan for a future.
These immigrants often have no ties to their countries of birth and have considered themselves Americans for as long as they can remember. There are now efforts to repeal DACA, which is not simply an effort to deport undocumented immigrants, but would uproot students from their classrooms, extracurricular activities, schools, neighborhoods, friends, and families.
The DACA Student Body
Though undocumented immigrants who are DACA eligible arrived in the United States as children under the age of 16, the program was available to individuals who were under the age of 31 by June 15, 2012. The guidelines to qualify for DACA were extremely stringent and meant to retain only the most law-abiding, ambitious members of the undocumented-immigrant community.
To file for DACA, dreamers were required to have neither felonies, nor significant misdemeanors, and no more than three misdemeanors of any other type. These immigrants were required to have been enrolled in school, graduated, or received a general education development (GED) certificate. Candidates could also have been honorably discharged from the United States military.
Despite their respect for the law, education, and – in certain cases – devotion to the United States through military service, dreamers could face deportation under a DACA repeal. Though dreamers might be eligible for in-state tuition rates and financial aid for college, some have decided not to apply due to fear of deportation. Many educational institutions, especially those located in sanctuary cities and states where dreamers are given greater protections, are still encouraging these students to apply to college and for financial aid, yet the numbers show that many don’t feel protected.
In February 2017, as college admissions and financial aid plans were being organized for many students, Northern California’s Mercury News reported that there had been a decline in the state’s higher-education applications from dreamers.
“…The California Student Aid commission, which receives applications from students, had only 19,768 new and renewed Dream Act applications compared to 34,162 during the same period last year, a drop of 42 percent. That includes just 8,600 new applications from high school seniors compared to 13,200 at the same time last year, according to data provided by the commission.”
As fewer dreamers feel confident in choosing to pursue educational opportunities in the United States, they will remain in limbo, living in fear of losing the only home they’ve known and the opportunities they thought were accessible. For the United States, this means the loss of a large population of educated, trained members of the workforce.
A Long Walk from Freedom
One important legislative aspect the DACA repeal overlooks is the exception within immigration law found under 8 USC 1231: Detention and removal of aliens ordered removed, which states that individuals whose lives, or freedom, would be endangered upon return to a homeland are protected from deportation from the United States. In many of the potential DACA deportation cases, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials (ICE) could be in violation of the law, as dreamers might be in danger if they are deported to a hostile country of birth.
What Would Teachers Do?
If approved, the repeal of DACA would lead ICE agents to search for dreamers who are living in the United States in an effort to deport them to their countries of origin. Teachers should reach out to school administrators to organize a meeting with other educators and school staff to review state and city laws regarding protections for dreamers. If no such protections are in place, it is best to discuss school policy with administrators and outline the proper procedures to follow if an ICE raid occurs.
In addition to meeting with administrators and colleagues, try to guide students who are dreamers and remain a source of empathy for them during this time. The primary job of every teacher is to remain an advocate for all students. Remaining calm and reassuring students is crucial, as these children risk losing their entire way of life and that constant stress can have a huge impact on their emotional well-being and academic performance.