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The Fight for Action: DACA Students

Everyone deserves the chance to pursue their education with financial support that's fair and sufficient. Education is often overlooked as a privilege, but for countless individuals, it's the key to realizing their dreams and reaching their full potential. There's a daunting reality faced by undocumented students when it comes to affording college tuition. Picture yourself at 18, eagerly applying to colleges, your dream university, only to feel hopeless. These aspirations can seem like distant stars in an unreachable sky for those without citizenship.

Former President Barack Obama launched Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy that protects individuals who entered the U.S. as children from being deported and allows them to apply for a work visa. As of June 2012, to be eligible for DACA, individuals must have been residing in the U.S. before their 16th birthday and be under the age of 31. During his presidency, Trump shut down DACA in 2017, preventing individuals in the program from being protected and feeling safe, and making them altogether vulnerable. In 2020, DACA once again started accepting applications for those who needed to renew their status immediately. Unlike citizens in the United States, undocumented individuals are restricted from applying to federal programs, like Pell Grants, scholarships and federal student loans, that enable them to have financial resources to afford and pursue a higher education. In 2001, Assembly Bill 150 allowed DACA students to qualify for in-state tuition to make their education more affordable. However, many still do not qualify for these programs and are left completely abandoned.

Although many say undocumented individuals have resources like DACA, the Dream Act and AB150, more is needed. Many individuals are like Vianney Barbosa, a third-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles, who expresses that throughout her senior year, "My status was my biggest enemy. I didn't qualify for scholarships because ‘legal status’ was required, causing me extreme frustration. For example, my graduation speech went viral, making me a finalist for a $50,000 scholarship from Deja Tu Huella, hosted by Cheetos and artist Bad Bunny. I became ineligible due to my status, and Cheetos simply dismissed me." Society must advocate for legal protections that ensure equal opportunities and provide students with a sense of security and freedom. There are many disadvantages to the current policies and programs. Although students are receiving aid for their education, it is restricted. They receive a refund depending on how much they qualify for, and it is less guaranteed to be awarded with a budget increase. There are still many necessities that should be incorporated into their aid, like housing, food and transportation. If a DACA recipient attempts to secure a job or an internship, everything is thoroughly checked by their financial assistance, and since they don't have citizenship, they are paid through stipends. Often, like with Vianney, their status prevents them from qualifying for specific scholarships and internships.

The fight that many DACA students are experiencing is a limitation to work for their school—due to their legal status, school boards are hesitant to allow students to work. Barbosa says, "I am done fighting silently." Likewise, let's call for action. Universities should allow all undocumented students the opportunity to work, especially if they attend the school. School boards should allow budget increases up to 3 times the normal amount for DACA students to afford school and other essentials. Schools should strive to provide fellowships or internships, particularly for DACA students, to ensure they get experience in their field regardless of citizen status. It's time for society to recognize the inherent value of education and take action to fight for all students, regardless of their immigration status. 

Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

1 Comment

Adrian H
Adrian H
Apr 19

Hello Janet,

I would have to agree with you when you say that a lot of people in well-off or developed countries, especially the US, forget the power of education and getting an education. And in that same vein, it is likely why certain education laws or policies are taken away/restricted to keep folks strung out for unlocking their potential as you mentioned, or, at least in the worst-case scenario, unquestioning and dumb. But maybe that's my nihilist view of it, though, there is a reason why our education system is made fun of often--and this really highlights another reason why.

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