Member View: DACA and the Moral Universe

Editor’s note: Admitted’s op-ed columns offer NACAC members the opportunity to share their take on the day’s news and events. The views and opinions expressed in Member View columns are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of the association.

Throughout his tenure as president, Barack Obama frequently quoted Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous line, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” In 2012, the Obama administration implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which temporarily allowed qualified undocumented immigrants to the United States, who entered the country as minors, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. Additionally, DACA allowed some of these students access to in-state tuition.

DACA’s establishment was controversial, but the path toward DACA was paved decades before. In fact, the implementation of DACA coincided with the 30th anniversary of Plyler v. Doe, a 1982 Supreme Court decision that barred K-12 public schools from charging undocumented students tuition. In may have taken 30 years, but undocumented students in the United States had increased opportunities for not just primary and secondary education, but higher education as well. DACA was, essentially, part of the long arc bending toward justice.

Because DACA students are required to have lived in the United States since before the age of 16, it only makes sense that these students also have access to higher education here as well. According to a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, “a college degree is key to economic opportunity, conferring substantially higher earnings on those with credentials than those without.” Meanwhile, a study by the Center for American progress shows that DACA has created positive educational and economic outcomes for both recipients and society at large. DACA has increased labor participation and tax revenues as well.

From an educational perspective, DACA isn’t difficult for colleges in the United States to implement — it simply means that eligible undocumented students can enroll at public or private universities without fear of deportation. Additionally, DACA students are allowed to apply to US colleges as domestic students, not international ones, simplifying the application and financial aid processes. DACA students also are living with less anxiety and emotional stress due to their immigration status. According to a 2014 survey of undocumented millennials, “64 percent of respondents report feeling a greater sense of belonging in the United States after becoming ‘DACAmented.’”

Unfortunately, that same 2014 survey showed that “66 percent continue to feel anxious because they have vulnerable undocumented family members or friends without DACA. In spite of all the data that shows access to education and the ability to gain employment is good for society, the Trump administration has been systematically trying to reverse most of Obama’s policies. From immigration to health care to education — Trump seems determined to break the progressive arc toward justice. Sure enough, he recently announced his plans to dismantle DACA. Our only hope, it seems, is that Congress will do its job and make DACA the law of the land.

College campuses in the United States are diverse institutions, and college administrators who disagree with Trump’s policies can try to protect their most vulnerable students, but it isn’t always possible. Building a wall and deporting hundreds of thousands of children, breaking up families, and keeping our most vulnerable residents in the shadows is one way to address our immigration issues, but that won’t prevent future immigrants from moving here. The best way to address immigration is to continue the long arc toward justice, giving our most vulnerable residents access to employment and higher education.


NACAC member Britten Nelson is associate director of college counseling with University Prep, an independent day school in Seattle for students in grades 6 through 12.

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