News Columns & Blogs

Stomping on the dreams of deserving students – Wheeler

In January 2014, immigration activists chanted behind a cardboard coffin on the front steps of the attorney general’s office in Raleigh. They had made a trip from Chapel Hill to Raleigh to demand that Roy Cooper issue a legal opinion that students in the federal DACA program are eligible for in-state tuition.
In January 2014, immigration activists chanted behind a cardboard coffin on the front steps of the attorney general’s office in Raleigh. They had made a trip from Chapel Hill to Raleigh to demand that Roy Cooper issue a legal opinion that students in the federal DACA program are eligible for in-state tuition. cliddy@newsobserver.com

He should be waking up Friday, the day after his Wake County high school graduation, joyfully anticipating college in the fall, with admission to a Division III school in hand, a football position secured, a financial aid package all set.

On his resume are honor roll student, football team captain, Academic All Conference, N.C. Scholar Athlete.

This is a young man who worked throughout high school as a referee for youth sports, who spent his steamy Carolina summers laboring in construction with his dad. A phenomenal kid, conscientious, dependable, honest.

Every rule he could choose to follow, he has done so without complaint.

What he didn’t choose was to come to the United States at age 4 illegally with his parents.

Yet so many among us want to punish him for it.

Being accepted into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has given this young man a two-year renewable work permit and a Social Security card. What it hasn’t given him is eligibility to receive financial aid, grants or loans for college. Schools that had been looking at him as a football prospect became impossible to pay for.

DACA – created by President Barack Obama four years ago next week – also doesn’t give him in-state tuition to University of North Carolina schools, though at least 20 other states offer in-state tuition to unauthorized students. The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition and fees for the coming year at N.C. State, for example, is staggering: $8,880 vs. $26,399. That is insurmountable for immigrant families often making well below North Carolina’s median income.

According to Golden Door Scholars, 65,000 unauthorized students graduate from high school in the United States each year, but fewer than 10 percent living in states where they must pay out-of-state tuition go to college.

“You’ve got to let these kids we’ve invested in realize their potential, regardless of what they want to do,” said Raul Pinto, a staff attorney at the N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh. “It’s a shame the opportunities are not here because of a state decision. That’s the shame of it all.”

Nearly a decade has passed since President George W. Bush supported the bipartisan Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, which was derailed because it provided a path to citizenship for the country’s then 12 million unauthorized immigrants.

1.36 million The number of Deferred Action for Child Arrival requests approved in the United States through March

85,242 The number of DACA requests that have been denied

1,495The average accepted each day

48,680 The number of DACA requests accepted in North Carolina through March

7 Where North Carolina ranks in number of requests approved in each state

387,275 How many California has accepted, the most

It has been 15 years since the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors or DREAM Act was first introduced in Congress. Multiple times it has been reintroduced only to fail. DACA was Obama’s response to congressional opposition on the issue.

Now, thanks to inaction and Donald Trump, we’re back to talking about mass deportation and fences.

Yes, we know illegal is illegal is illegal. But it’s economically impractical, politically implausible and humanly immoral at this point to pretend we can return 11 million people, many of whom have fled unspeakable violence, back to their countries of origin.

We are squandering the potential and stomping on the dreams of young people knitted tightly into our American communities who had no say in how they got here.

That doesn’t mean we can’t stitch up the holes or introduce strategies that deter more people from coming illegally. It’s already true that more Mexican citizens have been going back to Mexico than coming in to the United States since the end of the Great Recession.

As we keep climbing this mountain of immigration reform from what can feel like opposite directions, one would think that the easy, reasonable place to plant a flag of cooperation would be in instituting policies that help blameless children be the highest functioning members of our society they can be.

Making it impossible for worthy and able students to pursue college degrees and forcing them into lower-paying unskilled jobs serves absolutely no one. To whom is a victory awarded by keeping the hard-working young man of character, ability and intellect I know out of college? For those with purely mercenary concerns, remember the better his job, the higher the wages, the higher the taxes and the higher the economy-greasing consumption.

By lifting the gut-churning fear of deportation and making work permits and driver’s licenses possible, DACA has been a magnificent first step toward rationality, practicality and kindness.

Giving this Wake County high school honor graduate and others like him the opportunity to be all they can be should be the next one.

Wheeler: 919-829-4825, bwheeler@newsobserver.com, @burgetta_nando

And then there’s DAPA

Any day now, the Supreme Court will weigh in on the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program that President Obama created by executive order in 2014. DAPA would exempt the unauthorized parents of children who are American citizens or lawful permanent residents from deportation and let them get renewable work permits.

Several states sued the federal government over DAPA, blocking the program from going into effect as the cases have wound through the courts.

  Comments