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DACA students in limbo
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By Ernest Gurulé
09/07/2021
For nearly a decade, young people brought to the United States as infants or young people by their parents have lived under a policy known as DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA, an executive order signed by President Obama, was enacted in June 2012. It protected hundred of thousands of undocumented immigrants from deportation, despite the fact that many of them have known no other country. But a Texas judge has ruled that DACA is illegal.

Houston-based U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen ruled in July that President Obama had “illegally implemented the program.” In his ruling, Hanen barred the Department of Homeland Security from approving new applications, invalidated a memo that created DACA and sent the matter back to the Department of Homeland Security to reconsider. The ruling does not stop processing DACA renewals but does not allow for any new applications to be granted.

Beside Texas, six other states, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska and South Carolina, had all sued claiming that the 2012 executive order was illegal. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the ruling. “The court clearly saw that this program is against the law through and through,” he said. Only Congress and not the President “has the authority to write immigration laws.”

While unhappy with Judge Hanen’s ruling, MALDEF, the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, found a silver lining in the ruling that allowed current applications for DACA to continue being processed.

But the ruling also sets in place a roadblock for a path to citizenship for those living under the Obama order, including thousands of young people now enrolled or planning to attend college.

“I’ll be frank,” said Gregor Mieder, Director of Immigrant Services at Denver’s Metropolitan State University, “this is not the first time there’s been a legal challenge to DACA.” Ex-President Donald Trump had made ending DACA one of his signature goals throughout his presidency and had attacked the Supreme Court when it ruled against his administration when it tried to end the program in 2017.

Obama’s executive order covered immigrants under age 31 as of June 15, 2012. It also included a number of other guidelines for qualifications for inclusion. Applicants must have come here before their 16th birthday; have lived here continuously since arrival; were physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, at the time of applying for DACA; are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion of high school or received a GED or received an honorable discharge from the military. They must also have no criminal record or pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Prior to the Obama DACA executive order, immigration policies created a separate reality for immigrants, many of whom lived in a near constant state of fear that they could be stopped at any time and deported, said MSU-Denver’s Mieder. Also, if a family member died in Mexico---or any other country---they could not simply leave the U.S. to attend the funeral and then simply return for fear that recrossing the border would expose their status.

In other cases, there was also a constant state of anxiety in families where one child was DACA-eligible, but a sibling might not be. Splitting up families, he said, was simply an everyday fear.

Despite the recent ruling that DACA is illegal, Colorado State University-Pueblo President Timothy Mottet, vowed to do all in his power to continue serving DACA students currently enrolled. “This transcends the politics of the day,” said Mottet. “We serve a population of students in Southern Colorado who have grown up here, gone to schools here, and know no other home. We remain committed to supporting our community members in their quest to better their lives and the lives of their family members.” CSU-Pueblo is designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution, a school with at least 25 percent Hispanic student enrollment.

The University, said a spokesperson, currently has “between 30 and 60” DACA students. To protect the students anonymity, the spokesperson declined to give an exact figure.

College for DACA or ‘Dreamers’ is not tuition-free, but a number of states, including Colorado, do allow for some relief for students under this program. Students can apply for financial aid or scholarships or are allowed to pay in-state tuition to ease the financial burden of attending college.

In his MSU-Denver office, Mieder interacts with Dreamers on an almost daily basis. What he notices, he said, is that “They’re all Americans, one hundred percent.” The U.S., said Mieder, is the only country they know. “They don’t have a meaningful recollection of any other home.”

According to recent government data, more than 450,000 DACA-eligible students are enrolled in higher education, with 87 percent currently working toward an undergraduate degree with 13 percent enrolled in graduate programs.

In 2020, Santiago Potes, whose parents brought him to Florida from Columbia as a baby and is today is fluent in nine languages, is the first Latino Dreamer to be awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Less than one percent of those applying for this scholarship, considered one of academia’s most prized, even get as far as the interview process for the prized scholarship. Potes, a Columbia University graduate, is studying Eastern Asia policy at Cambridge. He credited his second-grade teacher in Florida---a Cuban immigrant---as the inspiration for his academic achievements.

The Biden administration said it would appeal the Texas ruling including the provision on processing new applications for DACA.

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