Undocumented children in America who aspire of one day attending college may never see their dreams become a reality.
President-elect Donald Trump has signaled in one of his debate speeches, that once he takes office, he may rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that makes thousands of illegal immigrants eligible for affordable college education. Trump’s potential decision embodies a sentiment that has gripped America since its inception: anti-immigration.
DACA, an executive policy passed by President Obama in 2012, grants Social Security numbers (SSN) to undocumented children , allowing them access to financial aid and work permits. There are over 3,500 undocumented immigrants in New York who are recent high school graduates. But only five to 10 percent of these students have been granted a SSN and can now afford to attend college, according to the American Immigration Council website.
The federal government has issued 844,931 DACA approvals and 606,264 renewals since this the founding of this program.
Jhon Restrepo, a 24-year-old undocumented immigrant living in the Bronx, is among DACA’s recipients. He was born in Cali, Colombia, in a gang-infested neighborhood where violence and police corruption were rampant. He was only 4-years-old when he witnessed his 3-year-old neighbor get shot in the head while she was playing in the street.
“It’s vivid to me,” Restrepo said. “It’s something that has stayed and defined me as a human being. What happened is a reality that many people in America will never understand.”
This incident is what led his family to relocate to the Bronx, where Restrepo used a fake SSN until 2013, when he was approved for DACA.
Then, he was able to attend Stony Brook University while simultaneously working two jobs and helping his mother pay rent.
“DACA was a blessing,” he said. “Now, I hope to one day buy my own house and open my own store.”
But many do not think it is a blessing; instead, they believe that it condones illegal immigration and will only encourage more undocumented immigrants to come to America.
“Repealing DACA would hurt people, I realize this,” said John Hawkins, a conservative columnist who runs Right Wing News. “But it’s not the government that’s wrong. It’s the parents. They are bad parents if they brought their kids here illegally. And now the kids will have to pay the price by having difficulty applying to colleges.”
Opponents of DACA often argue that illegal immigrants do not need to pay health insurance or taxes, so that is how they can afford to do menial jobs and American citizens cannot.
“If, for some reason, illegal immigrants were to disappear from America, wages would be up and many poor, lower-middle class Americans would be able to work these jobs,” Hawkins said.
The 2005 Economic Report of the President, however, reveals that more than 50 percent of undocumented immigrants work “on the books.” This means that they play a part in tax rolls, but are still barred from almost all federal public assistance programs and most major joint federal-state programs. Undocumented workers have increased legal workers’ wages by 10 percent from 1990 to 2007, according to the New York Times.
DACA actually works to alleviate the impact that undocumented workers have on low-income families, some experts suggest. Better education may propel illegal immigrants into higher-paying jobs and open up low-wage jobs for the working class.
“If you take children’s education away or deport them, you’ll only be creating an underclass,” Gallya Lahav, an Associate Professor at Stony Brook University who specializes in immigration and refugee politics, said. “They will be nonfunctional in society and remain in these low-wage jobs. So the opposition are supporting policies that is likely against their own views.”
Border security is also a hot-button issue fueling the DACA debate. Opponents of DACA often cite the Department of Homeland Security’s fiscal 2013 report that revealed that there are nearly 2 million removable criminal aliens in the United States.
Jeff Moyle, the administrator for a Facebook page titled “Americans Against Illegal Immigration” with 5,300 likes, believes that this is a reason to quash DACA. “They come here and commit crimes at such a great rate,” he said. “People with deferred action shouldn’t be given an education. They should be deported.”
However, the term “alien” constitutes both documented and undocumented immigrants. The fiscal report did not distinguish how many of the 2 million were undocumented, and data collected by the Washington Post suggests that only a small number of the 2 million are thought to be undocumented.
Many who have DACA or are DACA-eligible are now fearing that their status may be revoked.
Advocacy groups, like ADELANTE: Student Voices, a program that informs undocumented students about educational opportunities, have been receiving a high volume of calls from undocumented parents and students, fearful of what will become of them if DACA is taken away.
Gabriela Quintanilla, the founder of ADELANTE and a former DACA-holder, spoke out against Trump’s intention of overturning this executive policy.
“800,000 lives will go back in the shadows [if he repeals DACA],” said Quintanilla. “But I know that those 800,000 will also fight back and protest against such injustice.”
Quintanilla is a face of success for the DACA community. She recently graduated from Stony Brook University with a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Sociology and a minor in Political Science and used her time post-graduation to establish ADELANTE to help undocumented youths attain a college degree.
Those who have benefitted from this program called it life-changing.
“Applying for colleges as undocumented was like a rabbit hole,” said Restrepo. “But DACA opened up the doors for me to be economically free. It gave me hope.”