A grim reality bears down on young people brought to the United States as infants or children. Many have been raised in California schools and now attend Central Valley colleges and universities.
Since 2012, these undocumented students have been granted temporary permission to stay in the United States through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. This measure was a temporary policy fix. However, DACA has delivered more than protection, it delivered a trajectory shift – once only a dream.
These undocumented young people now can legally become interwoven into their communities. Thousands of young, undocumented people were able to pursue education and elevate their socio-economic conditions while improving the well-being of their communities.
The Harvard Graduate School of Education’s National Undocumented Research Project conducted a five-year study aimed at understanding how DACA-eligible individuals experienced their new status. This study, “Taking Giant Leaps Forward,” is the most comprehensive to date, surveying 2,648 DACA eligible young adults in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New York and South Carolina.
It found DACA worked as a springboard, allowing beneficiaries to experience immediate and continued job mobility. DACA served to open a gateway for students to participate in a variety of opportunities such as GED programs, workforce development, certificate programs and higher education.
An undocumented individual has little or no family resources with which to pursue education. They are excluded from state and federal financial aid and their motivation to pursue an economic dream is severely depressed without proper educational attainment.
But those covered by DACA are able to continue their education past high school, serve in the military and receive Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses. They can take internships, fellowships and receive job training. DACA creates real opportunities for young people, and that creates a positive impact for their communities.
Over 72,000 undocumented students are enrolled in the University of California, California State University and California Community College systems. An initial scan of the Central Valley shows over 5,000 DACA students – though the exact number is unknown.
What is known is that DACA provides protection from deportation and has created a shift in reality.
The magnitude of this shift is yet to be realized – the potential of Central Valley DACA students has been stunted, with the Trump administration’s announcement it would end DACA in six months. As a result, no new DACA applications will be accepted and Congress must act by March 5, 2018 to create new immigration legislation.
The Central Valley Higher Education Consortium stands up for these students. The CVHEC is a regional group of 26 institutions of higher learning – including community colleges, CSUs, UCs and private universities from Stockton to Bakersfield.
We are advocating with a single voice our focus on increasing the Central Valley’s degree attainment rates.
The Harvard study showed that 69 percent of DACA beneficiaries moved to a job with better pay, 90 percent got a driver’s license or state identification, 65 percent purchased their first cars, 5 percent started businesses, and 16 percent purchased their first homes.
Keep in mind, DACA is still just a public policy measure – never meant to replace immigration reform; it is a policy created to protect individuals while Congress developed a better solution. A solution is still needed.
Encouraged by the swift support of valley legislators – including Rep. Jim Costa (16th District), Rep. David Valadao (21st) and Rep. Jeff Denham (10) – CVHEC is urging our Valley congressmen to join their colleagues and act to immediately pass legislation providing a permanent solution for these young people. Such a solution will includes a secure pathway toward citizenship and allow these DACA beneficiaries toto live, work, serve and succeed without fear.
Benjamin T. Duran is Executive Director of the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium and former superintendent/president of Merced Community College. He wrote this for the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium.