DACA keeps freedom of choice in education

Image By: Zoe Bendoff

Every student — regardless of their race, ethnicity, citizenship, gender, sexual orientation and the like — should have access to an adequate education. Unfortunately, Trump’s administration doesn’t seem to agree.

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, allows undocumented students access to certain financial aid, builds a sense of belonging and, most importantly, a legal pathway for pursuing higher education — something that has become increasingly important for folx entering the labor force. 

Introduced by President Barack Obama back in 2012, DACA is a two-year, renewable program to curb the deportation of people brought to the United States as children. DACA doesn’t provide a direct pathway to citizenship, but allows these folx to obtain work visas — which can then lead to insurance coverage, health care access, eligibility for grants, among other resources. 

In 2016, there were around one million undocumented youth eligible for DACA, and nearly 800,000 have been protected by DACA since its inception. Young people were given the opportunity to pursue a career or schooling that wouldn’t have been possible due to financial, legal and other barriers to education. 

Yet, over the past year, DACA has been under attack by the Trump Administration, and its effects are rippling on our own campus. While Chancellor Rebecca Blank has voiced support for DACA and the students who fall under this umbrella, this doesn’t mean that undocumented students can become Badgers easily. 

While measures such as Bucky’s Tuition Promise and other scholarships are offered to UW-Madison students and may be able to make a dent in college costs, in-state residency or the possession of a Social Security Number (SSN) are typically required to be eligible. However, Wisconsin does not currently offer in-state tuition for DACA recipients. 

Studies on Latino-born non-citizens show that folx are more likely to enroll in college if they are living in a state where they are eligible for in-state tuition. Wisconsin must join the 16 other state legislatures offering in-state tuition benefits to undocumented students as a necessary step in closing statewide achievement gaps. While these states typically require graduation from an in-state high school, these policies are a start in fostering an environment conducive to the education of all students, regardless of finances and documentation. 

To make matters worse, the Trump Administration has recently proposed raising the biennial DACA renewal fee by 55 percent. While the jump of nearly $300 may not seem burdensome to all, this could mean the difference of obtaining a degree — and the associated wages that accompany a college degree. 

It’s fair to say that community colleges would be highly affected by the repeal of DACA, since many undocumented folx who come to America attend community colleges and rely on their work to afford earning their degree in around two years’ time. To make the balance feasible, they are often part-time students committed to full-time jobs. If DACA was to be revoked, they would have to decide between them both. Their priorities change from what they want to do to what they need to do to sustain their livelihoods in America. 

This is a life behind barriers — being in the center of American society in a cage isolated from their peers who attend schools and work jobs and have the ability to pursue their dreams without fear of deportation. DACA allows for folx to go past these borders and make these chances possible. It’s not an end-all, be-all fix, but it is a step forward in expanding access and questioning the integrity of our current social and economic systems. 

When we consider the current actions of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, raids have increased, notably in “sanctuary cities” like Chicago, San Francisco and New York. For folx seeking work in heavily-populated cities, they are at a higher risk of deportation since their search for stable income could be more noticeable in urban areas. 

Yet, officials say they are focusing on criminals, while also demanding recipients to have “clean records” for qualification. While this is not unusual for government programs, it’s problematic. A petty offense could lead to deportation, whether it be a person pursuing their degree, a guardian supporting a child in school or a young family working to get an education to support themselves. 

We as voters and constituents must step in and elect officials who genuinely support our undocumented population — not bigots who generalize Mexicans as violent rapists, Muslims as terrorists with “no sense of reason or respect for human life” and refer to an entire continent as a “shithole.” 

According to the Institute of Research on Poverty here at UW-Madison, 30 percent of children in low-income households are expected to enroll in university, whereas those born into top-income households sit at 80 percent. These high-income students are also six times more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree by 25. Existing financial barriers to education are harming us tremendously as a country and state, and we must do better to level the playing field for all students — not just the rich, white and powerful. 

The economic, moral and social incentives to invest in our undocumented population is mounting, and racist rhetoric cannot stand in the way of fulfilling the promises this nation is built upon: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In a country so deeply entrenched in the capitalist system, education is a clear opportunity for folx to make the career and otherwise decisions to allow for a more sustainable and livable life. 

We must appeal to influential UW System legislators and advocate for greater access via financial aid and other benefits to students under DACA. Being born on one side of an arbitrary border versus another shouldn’t limit opportunity to those who qualify — regardless of what aimless politicians may tell us. A 1982 Supreme Court decision deemed K-12 education a right for all children, regardless of immigration status, and due to the growing economic necessity for a college education, it must be extended to technical/collegiate programs as well. 

And whether folx decide to utilize their college degrees for the careers they go on to pursue or move on to work in something completely different, it is vital that a choice be given to make those changes — a choice their citizen-counterparts often have. A key consequence of losing DACA is taking away a human’s right to choose a path in America, often called “the land of the free.”

What this all reverts back to — every political decision, every ICE raid, every statement by university leadership — is the ability to choose. If choice can be so easily revoked, what is the point of our learning in classrooms every day? What is the value of our freedom if not everyone is able to have the same access? If education is so important to us, why is it treated like it’s a privilege? 

A degree doesn’t equate success — however, the “American Dream” is a capitalistic promise that jobs will give citizens a home and family and lifestyle only found in our fantasies. Despite living in a culture that is beginning to move past what made the “American Dream” a dream, the laws we follow are propagated by this system. 

DACA provides an opportunity for access to that dream, but it shouldn’t be treated as a pipeline of success to create the melting pot that shows how diverse America is. Yet, that is how the law appears, and that is what the Trump administration is seeking to revoke. 

The changes that need to be made are through intersectional legislation, through experiences, through the need to provide equity. It needs to be a right that all folx, whether born in this country or not, are allowed to pursue education in all forms throughout life, if they so choose. 

The “American Dream” is dependent on each person, and to believe it’s a one-size-fits-all guide to being a citizen is exactly why revoking DACA will fail to provide for the folx it is made for. It’s failing the folx that are seeking opportunity and access, by revoking their ability to earn their degree, have a job and live a full life. 

The ability we have as college students to use our platforms to challenge curricula, demand better resources and uplift marginalized populations needs to be taken seriously by legislators. The voices of the current citizens should be heard as we look at future citizens — there is nothing alien about seeking opportunity and freedom, isn’t that the point of being an American?

Herein lies the problem we always come back to: access to opportunity is only possible through choice. Yet, deportation takes away the possibility completely. 

With this being said, we as a group of young folx pursuing our own degrees — and eventually our careers — understand to the best of our ability what is at stake, and who is being neglected by racist and outdated policies. We ask the university to consider its own role in holding back an entire population from the ability to choose strictly because of the longitude and latitude of their birth location, and to just be better in their treatment of education as a means of collaboration and intersectional lifelong learning, not a pipeline for career readiness or a 401k. 

We ask our legislators to consider the existing positive impact the DACA program has on improving the futures of young folx — and frankly, our country — and to be better in caring for human life beyond the subjective boundaries of this nation. 

And primarily, we ask our peers to consider this issue when making future decisions as voters, constituents and empathetic humans — and to fight harder, as well as be louder and more adamant than those who came before us. 

Education is a right, and we must make it fully accessible to everyone. 

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