Despite judge’s decision on DACA, uncertainty still looms for Dreamers. KIPP Colorado wants that to change.

ByChyrise Harris
Students in graduation caps and gowns hold signs that say

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By this time next year Blanca hopes to be planning for college graduation and applying for a number of jobs that will allow her to put her communications degree to good use. She’ll be a graduate from Colorado State University, an alumna of KIPP Colorado Schools and an exemplar of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program…hopefully.

Around the same time that Blanca plans to graduate college, she must also renew her status as a DACA recipient.

The renewal process, though expensive and time consuming, has been relatively easy for Blanca, until now. But between the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA and Congress’ failed attempts to implement permanent legislation to protect dreamers, Blanca’s expectation of giving back to the only country she’s ever known is still only something she can hope to accomplish.

While a federal judge just ruled that the administration’s decision to rescind DACA was both “arbitrary and capricious,” the judge has given the Department of Homeland Security 90 days to better explain how the program is unlawful. If the department can not prove its point, it must continue to accept and process new applications as well as renewals.

And once again, students like Blanca are forced to wait under a heavy veil of uncertainty.

“It definitely makes me wonder what my future is going to hold,” Blanca said. “I don’t know if in a year DACA is going to still be around, and even though it has been brought back, it could easily be taken away again.”

It’s that uncertainty that motivated KIPP Schools to hold a National Day of Advocacy for Dreamers. With more than 90,000 KIPPsters and 11,000 alumni attending college around the country, KIPP organized students, alums, leaders and counselors from its KIPP Through College program on a series of national conference calls highlighting the importance of supporting DACA recipients.

KIPP has always supported students as they prepare for and select the right college and career opportunities for them. Remarkably, counselors commit to students for 10 years from the day they finish 8th grade to the day they graduate college—even it takes six years to accomplish. Through College Match, counselors help students make sense of their GPA and scores on college entrance exams and then encourage them to apply early to at least nine schools, including safe schools, target schools and reach schools. After high school they also help alumni navigate the academic, social and financial challenges that students often encounter on a college campus. But with the constant changes to the DACA program, KIPP Colorado counselors have tailored how they support students and alums with DACA status.

“The level of uncertainty really plays a factor in their decisions,” said Victor Zamora, KIPP Colorado Schools KIPP Through College Director. “Families had a sense of what success looked like and now it’s become more uncertain. We’ve really had to be strategic about how we approach the process.”

For students with DACA status, finding the right college means they have to look at more than grades, exam scores and available majors. Students need to know they’ll feel safe and supported on campus. While many of the colleges and universities in Colorado have publicly declared their support for undocumented students, not all schools across the country have such a welcoming environment. And, even if a student gains acceptance to their top choice school, finding scholarships and financial aid presents an additional challenge that students with citizenship by birth or naturalization simply don’t face.

So while KIPP works to help students navigate the challenges and opportunities of college, its leaders are also unapologetic in saying and doing what they can to encourage Congress to pass a permanent legislative solution that gives dreamers the confidence to pursue the future they deserve.

In solidarity with other Denver educators, KIPP leaders speak out, partner with local legal organizations and engage elected officials on both sides of the legislative aisle—not just for the good of their students—but for the good of Colorado and the entire country.

“The future of our country is bound up by what happens to them,” said Kimberlee Sia, KIPP Colorado Schools Chief Executive Officer. “Dreamers pay billions of dollars per year in federal, state and local taxes. Many of them are homeowners, they’re invested in their communities and for every dreamer that we force out of their communities, we lose all of that potential.”

It’s easy to see that potential in students like Blanca, someone who is making a real difference in her community. In fact, as part of a research program in Fort Morgan, she’s helping refugee students improve their language and communication skills. Clearly she’s learned that the true value of a quality education lies in using your talent for the betterment of others.

For her sake and ours, let’s hope she’s able to extend her positive influence long after that walk across the graduation stage next spring.