By: Alissa Bernstein
DACA is an immigration policy. But in the world of advocacy and reform, it is also an education policy. The stories of Dreamers and continued research from scholars about DACA’s impact on academic achievement make it clear that the results of the latest government showdown on the issue have far-reaching consequences.
Here’s what some undocumented students shared about their experiences in the pre-DACA era:
“When that whole college process started, it definitely hit me hard. It was just really frustrating. I felt like I had put so much work into school, into studying, into making good grades. I went into depression…I started thinking I’m never going to go anywhere and it’s all because of some paper I don’t have. It was really rough. I was angry all the time.”
“College and law school were definitely in my plans. But when my mom told me I wasn’t legal, everything turned upside down. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t see my future anymore.”
The question for many education advocates becomes: How can our actions persuade politicians to reach a legislative solution that puts politics aside and focuses instead on the students?
Partnership for Educational Justice was founded to fight for the rights of students. We were ready to join lawsuits to protect Dreamers, because we knew that we could not sit idly by while hundreds of thousands of students had their educational futures threatened by the current administration’s decision to rescind DACA. The impact of this policy is larger than one might think: in addition to the approximately 800,000 DACA grantees that are most obviously impacted, there are hundreds of thousands more students who will endure irreparable harm if DACA is rescinded. These include students who would have become eligible to apply for DACA in the near future, American citizen children whose parents or guardians are DACA grantees, and the students of the nearly 20,000 DACA public school teachers across the country. For PEJ, the need to act was undeniable.
PEJ recruited partner organizations including DelawareCAN, HawaiiKidsCAN, NewMexicoKidsCAN and Virginia Excels to join the legal fight against the rescission of DACA. We pooled our knowledge, including legal expertise, contacts with DACA students and other educational insights to file amicus briefs in the federal lawsuits fighting against the rescission of DACA and provided the courts with briefs focused on the irreparable educational harms at stake for K-12 students.
From the United States Supreme Court’s established education legal precedent rooted in Brown v. Board of Education, we know that because it is “doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education…[s]uch an opportunity…is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” Therefore, we are hopeful that the judges presiding over the DACA lawsuits will understand why the educational stakes for kids are just too high to risk letting another day go by without putting a permanent stop to the government’s attempt to rescind DACA.
We hope that the judges deciding these cases will be moved by students’ stories we shared, including the story of a student whose DACA status allowed her to attend the college of her dreams. Or that the judges will be impacted by the research we cited from experts, including details about how undocumented students who are vulnerable to deportation are more likely to be chronically absent from school during periods of increased ICE enforcement. We hope the courts will also understand the importance of the 20,000 DACA teachers in public K-12 schools who bring a unique set of skills to the classroom and serve as role models and navigators for students—especially students of color—who consistently perform better when taught by teachers of color, leading to better attendance, fewer suspensions and higher test scores.
Our children’s educational futures should not be used as a bargaining chip to support politics. We can only hope that our courts will provide the checks and balances judicial review was designed to guarantee for the benefit of every student whose future depends on it.