The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion What abolishing DACA would mean for thousands of admirable ‘dreamers’

Immigration activists stage a demonstration in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington in 2018.
Immigration activists stage a demonstration in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington in 2018. (John Moore/Getty Images)
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Donald Graham is chairman of Graham Holdings and a co-founder of TheDream.US.

I want to tell you three things about the “dreamers,” the young people covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. The Supreme Court hears arguments on Nov. 12 that might lead to the abolition of DACA, and I would like you to know what that would mean.

First, the dreamers and other undocumented students are arguably the most discriminated-against students in the United States. Second, perhaps because of this discrimination, they are incredibly, almost impossibly, motivated to get a college education.

Up until the 1960s, most state universities in the South were closed to African Americans. And that is now the situation of dreamers at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State. They are banned from attending, by state law. What if he’s a graduate of a Georgia high school? Doesn’t matter. What if she’s the valedictorian? No difference.

Undocumented students (other than those with DACA) are banned from all state colleges in Alabama and South Carolina. And discrimination isn’t limited to the South. In Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa and Missouri, among others, in-state tuition cannot be offered to undocumented students. At Missouri public colleges, these mostly impoverished students pay about three times the in-state tuition rate.

Worse, the dreamers receive no federal grants or loans. None of them. Not a cent.

And yet thousands of dreamers have graduated from college in the United States. How do they do it? The motivation of many of these students is so strong it is almost absurd.

Take one of my favorite examples, Maria Nava, whom I met in Chicago this year. Illinois public colleges are among the nation’s most expensive, and Nava, who graduated from high school in 2003, received no state aid. But her generous sister promised to contribute her own earnings to help put Nava through college.

Trouble was, their combined earnings weren’t much. Nava used up the small private scholarships she earned as a top-ranking student. Most semesters, the sisters could afford just one class at Nava’s local community college.

One class at a time. Nava graduated from her two-year college in 11 years.

How much motivation did that take?

Consider Sadhana Singh, from Georgia. She was banned from the top universities in her home state and couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition elsewhere. At 28, she finally found our scholarship program, TheDream.US, which would pay for her tuition at a college far from home in Washington. For room and board, she launched a GoFundMe campaign for her first semester and after that worked part-time jobs — while compiling a 3.9 grade-point average.

Or Dulce Lopez. She, too, came from a state with no in-state tuition for dreamers, Wisconsin. So she applied for and won a scholarship from TheDream.US to Arrupe College, a two-year school in Chicago. But how could she get there? Lopez took the train every morning from her home in Wisconsin, then walked from the station. An hour on the train and an hour’s walk. Each way. Four days a week.

Four hours a day, four days a week — to go to a two-year college. She is on the dean’s list, will graduate in the spring and plans to enroll in a four-year college. She wants to be an orthopedic surgeon.

Created in 2012, DACA was the big break for young people like these — undocumented students, or people with high school diplomas, who had been brought here before their 16th birthday (the average student in our program came at age 4) and who have no record of felonies or serious misdemeanors. DACA gave them no money. What they got was two years freedom from deportation, a work permit and a Social Security number. The last two expire with DACA. The most important thing was the ability to work.

And now let me tell you the third thing I want you to know about the dreamers: If the Supreme Court overturns lower court injunctions and says President Trump followed the law in rescinding DACA, not one of these amazing, accomplished young people will be able to work for a law-abiding employer in the United States.

After all of Lopez’s four-hour commutes, after Nava’s 11 years at a two-year college, after more than 8,000 DACA teachers have been hired by U.S. school systems, after 14,000 DACA nurses and other professionals got jobs in health care — all who have jobs will have to be fired when their DACA expires. Those who are students will be ineligible for a job with a law-abiding employer.

No group of people ever relied on the word of their government more than the dreamers relied on DACA. They invested their money, their time, their boundless energy to do the things DACA made possible: to go to college, to find meaningful work. They knew it was possible that DACA would go away. They hoped it would not.

I love my country and love that it is governed by the rule of law. I pray that the court finds a way to leave the injunctions in place, to see whether Congress at last will do what most Americans say they want — let the dreamers stay here, study and work. I pray that Congress will ignore Stephen Miller as well as his counterparts on the left, for whom no deal is ever good enough.

I pray that the court will be wise enough to follow the law, but keep us from doing something truly hideous to some of the most admirable young people I have ever met.

Read more:

Greg Sargent: In battle over ‘dreamers,’ anti-Obama posturing boomerangs back on Trump

David J. Skorton: Terminating DACA would be bad for America’s health

Robert J. Samuelson: When will the ‘dreamers’ catch a break?

The Post’s View: Make a deal. Save the dreamers.

Donald E. Graham: Do it, Congress. Build the wall — and save the dreamers.

Janet Murguía: End the telenovela. It’s time for a real solution for dreamers and the border.