DACA: A dream deferred

Contributed by Susie Steinfield

Contributed by Susie Steinfield

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an immigration policy that temporarily suspends the deportation of undocumented immigrants brought into the country unlawfully by their guardians. Under DACA, students who immigrated under the age of 16 are eligible for the program and may defer deportation for two years. They also have the ability to obtain a working permit. As of Sept. 5, 2017, an executive order was passed to end DACA.

Does DACA affect students at the high school?

In the media, DACA is a topic of prevalence and controversy. A 2017 study by the Pew Research Center found that there are close to 180,000 undocumented immigrants in Greater Boston area alone. For many undocumented students within that group, the end of DACA brings uncertainty to their promising futures. But how does this decision affect the Brookline community?

When International Student Adviser Betsy Davis wrote “DACA” on the board of an ELL classroom and asked if any students were familiar, almost no one raised their hand.

According to ELL Enrollment & Assessment Specialist Karen Richardson, there are about 140 students at the high school who fall under the category of “eligible for immigration status.”

“As far as the school district is concerned, this means that they have been in U.S. schools for three years or less so there is some additional funding that the schools get to help those students get settled,” Richardson said.

For the most part, student immigration status remains unknown to faculty and administration. Within the Brookline Public School system, authority figures are not legally allowed to ask for the immigration status of students.

“Maura Healey, the attorney general, put out some guidance for schools back in the spring, reiterating that school districts are not allowed to collect immigration status information,” Richardson said.

According to Davis, students could feel fear in making their immigration status known.

“Am I safe here? Can I reveal who I am? What will people think of me? What do people think of people from my country?” Davis said. “There are so many questions around disclosing that kind of information.”



Disclosing immigration status: the financial issue

The Center for Immigration Studies found that of undocumented Mexican immigrants (where the majority of DACA participants emigrate from), 71.4 percent live in poverty.

Davis said that from a teacher’s perspective it would be helpful to know if a student was part of DACA in conversations about financial aid, assistance and scholarships.

“If I were to know that a student was undocumented I might assume that they might not be in terrific economic circumstances and might go the route of offering or explaining to them all the financial assistance information,” Davis said. “However, we will be explaining that to every family, but those kids might be more in need.”

In college, undocumented and DACA students may not apply for federal financial aid. An alumna from the class of 2015 who wished to be referred to by her initials, K.M., is a Honduran immigrant who is not personally affected by DACA. Still, she knows what it feels like to be fearful of possible deportation and has friends who are DACA students.

“It’s hard for them because one of them, she’s in community college, takes one or two classes per semester because she can’t apply for financial aid because of her immigration status,” K.M. said. “She’s working all the time, crazy hours, just to pay for school, because she can’t get any kind of financial aid whatsoever.”

In creating scholarship opportunities for possible DACA students at the high school, Davis said that there is a worry that these students would not feel comfortable, even if they are eligible, to apply.

“Will kids be willing to, say, apply for this because that then takes them out of the shadows and into the public and then say, ‘I am a DACA student. I could benefit from this scholarship?’ Davis said. “The scholarship is above board, all for the good of the kid, but I could see how a student might think twice or three times about applying because it does put them on that list and announces them to the greater world.”

The fear of deportation:

Although K.M. is not a DACA student, she knows the fear of possible deportation. According to K.M., she was in the situation of either getting a Green Card or being deported during her senior year.

“Everyone gets really stressed during college applications and all of that,” K.M. said. “For us, it was even more stressful because I was like, ‘okay I’m going to apply to schools but first of all, I don’t know if I’m going to get in, and second of all, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to attend because I might get deported.”

According to K.M., the executive decision to end DACA brings more fear to undocumented students even though immigrating was not their own decision to begin with.

“I know that it helps a lot of people, especially because most of them are people who came here when they were kids; it’s not their fault. Most of them have never even been to their countries; their whole life has been here,” K.M. said. “And then the fact that they’re struggling so much to make something here, and then just knowing that it can all be taken away out of nowhere, it’s just fear all of the time.”