There are more than 800,000 children whose families brought them to the US from other countries when they were little, but then overstayed their visas. The children, commonly known as Dreamers, are undocumented, and while they are allowed to attend public schools through high school, after that things get much harder. Many colleges won’t accept them, they cannot get financial aid, and they live with the constant prospect of being deported back to countries they have never called home.
Earlier this year President Donald Trump decided to terminate a program that was established to address this group. The program is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, or DACA. DACA required an application process and fee and allowed Dreamers to gain a provisional status which made them eligible to work and go to college. Those people who were dependant on DACA–including many Mercer students–now face great uncertainty.
Karen Segura, a current Mercer student, who is 19 years old, told The VOICE: “I am a citizen, but I know a lot of people who are being affected by the removal of DACA. It is becoming a problem for those who are currently in school. They’re not even sure if they’ll be able to graduate or continue their education.”
The President gave Congress six months to come up with a replacement for DACA. Republicans have proposed a plan called SUCCEED, while Democrats are advancing an alternative called DREAM.
The SUCCEED Act, proposed by Republican senators Thom Tillis, James Lankford and Orrin Hatch, would offer a 15 year road for undocumented children, who came to the U.S. before the age of 16, and who have continuously resided in the U.S. since 2012, to gain their citizenship.
During the 15 year process, Dreamers would be protected from deportation, allowing them to maintain permanent residency in the U.S., as long as they commit no crimes. They would also be required to stay enrolled in school if they are under age 18. Those over 18 would be required to obtain a high school diploma or GED and attend college or enroll in the U.S. military.
However, SUCCEED comes with a catch; several catches actually. First, President Trump has insisted that the wall with Mexico be built as part of any protection for Dreamers. Second, recipients would be required to sign a conditional departure order, which states that if they fail to comply with the terms of their status, they would be obligated to leave the US without resisting, essentially signing their own deportation orders. The third catch is that while those in the SUCCEED program would be able to gain full citizenship after 15 years, they would not be permitted to sponsor family members–including spouses and children–to help them obtain legal status in the U.S.
On the other side of the aisle, the Democrats in Congress have proposed an alternate plan called the DREAM Act. This is an updated version of an Act that has failed to be passed several times since 2001, and which ultimately lead former President Obama to create the DACA program.
The new DREAM proposal has a lot of similarities to SUCCEED, but there are some stark contrasts as well. They both require thorough background checks, and the obligation to maintain student or military status and to avoid trouble with the law. However, DREAM does not support the conditional departure order, or eliminate the possibility of sponsoring certain family members.
A source who asked to remain anonymous due to her undocumented status told The VOICE, “As a mother of a Dreamer, I support both bills. SUCCEED grants my child to stay. Even if they can’t sponsor me as his mom, I know he will be okay, and that’s what is important to me at this point.”
Another woman in a similar situation, told The VOICE, “I know I am older and do not have the same opportunities as my children. However, I want them to be safe here, and continue to carry on what I brought them here to do, which is to work hard and achieve an education.”
Twenty-three year old future college student Kenneth Torres says: “I believe everyone trying to obtain a college education should have the opportunity to do so. They are putting so many obstacles in front of those who are here trying to be better overall.”
It is not clear if either SUCCEED or DREAM has the Congressional votes needed to be passed into law, nor when a vote might be held on either plan.