10 years ago today, President Obama issued the executive order that established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Progam – or DACA – giving nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children the chance to live, work, and go to school without fear of deportation.
Thanks to DACA, Dreamers in all 50 states have been able to come out of the shadows – no longer forced to live under the constant threat of removal from the only country many of them have ever known. The relief that DACA recipients have gained, although temporary, has allowed them to live fuller and richer lives. They have become more active in their communities, more productive at work, better educated, and have also chosen to enlist in our nation’s military. DACA serves as a long-overdue recognition of what many of us have always known: that Dreamers belong here.
While DACA has been a significant step forward in the fight to expand immigrant rights, it falls short of the pathway to citizenship Dreamers deserve. We saw proof of DACA’s shortcomings during the Trump presidency, when a decidedly anti-immigrant administration rescinded the program and would have done away with it entirely had the Supreme Court not ruled to preserve it. But even with assurances that DACA will remain protected under President Biden, Dreamers – along with the immigrant community more broadly – still deserve better.
One area in which DACA recipients continue to face injustice is higher education. Wisconsin is home to more than 75,000 undocumented people, many of whom claim DACA status so they can enroll at a state college or university. But those Dreamers living in Wisconsin who decide to attend college must saddle a vastly higher financial burden than other Wisconsin students. This is because we are one of only five states in the country with laws that specifically prohibit undocumented immigrants, including beneficiaries of DACA, from receiving in-state tuition and financial aid. While some schools have offered privately-financed scholarship funds for Dreamers, the fact that politicians continue to deny thousands of Wisconsin students access to an affordable college education solely on the basis of their citizenship status is unfair, discriminatory, and at odds with the best interests of the state.
The 8.000 Dreamers who live in Wisconsin, along with the undocumented community as a whole, play a vital role in keeping Wisconsin running. According to a Dreamers of Wisconsin tuition equity policy brief, DACA-eligible residents of Wisconsin pay $48 million in local, state, and federal taxes and make massive contributions to our economy. The difference that DACA recipients make economically is so significant that without them the state would lose $427 million in GDP annually. Dreamers are clearly invaluable to our state in countless ways, and continuing to deny them equal access to education is not only harmful to Dreamers and their families but detrimental to all of Wisconsin.
Today, on the 10th anniversary of DACA – as we celebrate the remarkable achievements of Dreamers in Wisconsin and throughout the country – we also call for action. On the state level, we need to pass laws to end tuition inequity for Dreamers and undocumented students, as well as enact reforms that enable all immigrants to live more free and prosperous lives in Wisconsin. Nationally, we need to make comprehensive changes to our immigration system that go beyond DACA and create pathways to permanent citizenship.