For most college students, November means homecoming season. It means a time for students and alumni to celebrate our universities and connect with friends, colleagues, professors, and faculty members who support us throughout our educational careers. For students like me who rely on vital protections under the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Program, however, the usual excitement surrounding this month is overshadowed by a serious legal battle over our fate. Over 700,000 of us — with consequences extending to millions of our children, families, neighbors, and employers — could have our futures put in limbo again based on the Supreme Court’s decision on DACA after the justices heard oral arguments on it this November 12.
It wasn’t until 2015, after meeting with an immigration lawyer, that I went through the complicated process of applying for DACA. After several months of waiting for my application to process, I finally earned my status as a recipient. The hugely successful program issues two-year renewable work permits, which granted me the ability to work and take better care of my family. For many years, I have been the primary caregiver for my grandmother, who has severe Alzheimer’s and is completely immobile. I withdrew from school temporarily to obtain my CNA/HHA License in order to give her the care she deserves. Oftentimes, DACA recipients are looked at as economic levers for America, but often we are also the sole breadwinners in our families, too.
After four months, I was able to return to school at The University of the District of Columbia, which accepts undocumented students. Because of DACA, 93% of recipients in one survey reported being able to pursue higher education opportunities that they previously could not have accessed. Even though we work hard to study at American universities, fewer than 20 states allow undocumented students to enroll at public higher education institutions, and even fewer schools provide financial aid. Because UDC is a public university with significant government regulation, seeking financial aid was incredibly cumbersome for me. I was moved to join student government as the first openly undocumented vice president and then president. I held homecoming events that opened up discourse around Blackness in the immigration movement, while fulfilling duties such as town halls and governance.
I’ve recognized from my work that anti-Blackness is widespread in movement spaces and some might argue even in non-immigrant Black communities. At times, I have felt extremely lonely. But my experiences have made clear to me the importance of organizing with my non-Black colleagues, because reforming our badly broken system is going to take all of us working together. This year, I was elected to serve as the student representative to the Board of Trustees of my university. I am the first DACA recipient to do so, an accomplishment of which I’m very proud. But, I still felt like I could do more to advocate for immigrants. I have since teamed up with another DACA recipient on campus to create a student-led organization called “Migration Matters.” This is the first organization that centers students with non-traditional migrant backgrounds such as DACA recipients, TPS holders, and DED beneficiaries.
In 2017, the Trump Administration announced that it was ending DACA, stripping away the security and protections provided by the program. Some of my classmates were moved to tears, some decided to hold a rally, but at the time, I just stood still. I was living in this American Dream, and then was swiftly woken up. I was reminded that the protections under which I was living were temporary, and could be easily ripped away.
On November 12, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the legality of the Trump Administration’s decision to terminate DACA. Despite the fact that lower courts have clearly and repeatedly said that the Administration’s decision to do so was illegal, my future hangs in the balance. A ruling could be handed down as soon as January 2020, and roughly 700,000 people just like me could become a priority for deportation if the courts don’t rule to protect Dreamers. Even more critically, we need Congress to pass legislation to provide permanent protection from deportation for the 700,000 of us. In the meantime, eligible DACA recipients should renew as soon as possible.
Ripping people away from their lives and families is wrong, and the Supreme Court should refuse to do Trump’s dirty work of ending the program when his Administration hasn’t been able to achieve this on its own yet. Support for the DACA program remains incredibly strong, despite this Administration’s fearmongering and targeting of immigrants. Polls consistently show that the overwhelming majority of the American public supports a pathway for DACA recipients to stay and live our lives here. More than 600 college and university presidents who joined a letter this September are urging Congress to provide permanent protections for Dreamers. And last month, more than 130 colleges and universities filed an amicus brief arguing that ending DACA would severely harm the lives of students and alumni, adversely affect our nation’s higher education institutions, and sap our higher education communities of needed talent, diversity, and leadership.
Despite the continued contributions of DACA recipients to this country, and the fact that this is our home, our future hangs in the balance – we need Congress to act to protect the 700,000 of us, so we can stay in our communities. As a graduating senior, it is imperative to me that incoming students have a better experience than I’ve had. As the only openly undocumented Black person — and Black woman — on campus, it is a big role to fill. I hope that the Court and Congress do right by DACA recipients so that we can continue to build our lives here.