There are hundreds of thousands of K-12 students in the country who face an uncertain future if Congress does not expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
DACA provides certain undocumented individuals, known as Dreamers, who arrived in the U.S. at a young age protection from deportation and work authorization.
According to immigration advocacy group FWD.us, nearly nine in 10 undocumented K-12 students came to the U.S. after 2007, the last year that individuals must have been living in the country in order to be eligible for DACA protections. And 70% are under 15 years old — the minimum age to apply for DACA.
Additionally, a recent district court decision blocks first-time applications for DACA protections, so even those who are otherwise eligible will not be able to secure DACA protections without legislative intervention. FWD.us says about 50,000 rising high school seniors fall into that camp, which throws a wrench into their plans to attend college or start a career after graduation.
FWD.us said there are approximately 550,000 undocumented K-12 students in the country, and 74,000 are attending Florida schools.
Grisell Mendoza, a DACA-eligible 20-year-old who has lived in Florida since she was two years old, said the ruling turned her life “upside down.”
“I was days away from the last step in a long DACA application, when this ruling made it so that I could no longer apply for citizenship after 18 years of waiting,” she said. “After expecting to receive my social security number, a driver’s license and a work permit, I had to come to terms with the fact that these were no longer a possibility. In this moment of pain, I could only think about the thousands of other immigrants, like me, whose dreams of a brighter future were crushed in an instant by a court ruling hundreds of miles away.”
The organization said research shows that having lawful presence allows undocumented students to make substantial educational gains.
Meanwhile, undocumented students barred from receiving DACA, particularly those in high school, will face barriers many of their peers do not, including the inability in many states to obtain a driver’s license. They may also be ineligible for part-time jobs or to qualify for in-state tuition rates, even if they have lived there for years. These and other stressors can affect students’ mental health and, ultimately, their educational success.
DACA expansion would benefit U.S. citizens and permanent residents as well, FWD.us asserts. It previously noted that including broader immigration reform in Congress’ budget reconciliation package could produce a $17 billion a year economic impact.
“In addition to boosting our workforce and economy, expanding protections for undocumented immigrants and Dreamers would ensure that thousands of Florida students are able to stay with their families, earn an education and fully contribute to their communities,” said Hispanic Unity of Florida Executive Director Felipe Pinzon.
“Nearly 300,000 K-12 students in Florida have at least one undocumented parent, and approximately 74,000 K-12 students in Florida are undocumented and would never be eligible to request DACA under current rules. Florida’s students and families need a long-term solution for this enduring issue.”
The U.S. House included immigration reforms in the recently passed the Build Back Better Act — the name for social programs spending bill pitched by the White House — that would benefit millions of immigrants, many of them Floridians, who have lived, worked and contributed to the U.S. economy for an average of 20 years.
Provisions included in the legislation, which is awaiting a vote in the U.S. Senate, include deportation protections, longer term work permits, expanded health care and the ability for undocumented residents to travel home to visit their families.
“According to a recent FWD.us analysis, an estimated 1.2 million Floridians live in households with at least one individual impacted by these immigration provisions, and these changes would ensure that 350,000 undocumented immigrants in the labor force, including 160,000 in industries facing labor shortages, can continue contributing with work permits,” Ted Hutchinson, Florida state director of FWD.us. “While we continue to advocate and work toward a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, the immigration provisions in the Build Back Better Act are urgently needed.”
FWD.us polling has found immigration reform has strong support among across the country, with 79% saying they would rather lawmakers to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants than deport them.
The Build Back Better Act, which is awaiting a vote in the U.S. Senate, includes deportation protections, allows for longer term work permits, provides health care and allows immigrants to travel home to visit their families.