It’s in Congress’ hands to lift the dark cloud over our schools with a permanent DACA fix

ByMarcia Aaron (op-ed)
Close-up of DACA protest sign with US Capitol dome in the background

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A shadow was cast over Mrs. Morfin’s fifth grade class at KIPP Sol Academy in East Los Angeles on Tuesday, September 5th. That was the day President Donald Trump announced his intention to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, created during the Obama administration to protect undocumented young people who came to the United States as children from deportation.

Every morning since, when Mrs. Morfin greets her students, she notices a palpable anxiety that was not present before. Learning about the solar system is the last thing on their minds.

“Is my family going to be okay?” asks one student. “Are we going to be separated?”

Other students are noticeably quiet or, even more alarming, absent, as they face uncertainty about their legal status in their country and whether or not they will have a place in it for long.

If Congress does not find a permanent legislative solution for DACA, the stories of these students and the approximately 800,000 other DREAMers would reach an abrupt and unjust conclusion.

Faced with the possibility of being forced out of the only home they’ve ever known, DREAMers are putting their futures on hold as they anxiously await on Congress to act on a permanent DREAM Act before the clock runs out in March.

California’s history was and is being written by immigrants, and DREAMers are no exception. Every community in this city and this state has been enriched in some way by a DREAMer. Twenty-nine percent of eligible DACA recipients in the nation call California home, more than any other state. In the first year of the program alone, 14 percent of recipients were from the Los Angeles metro area. DREAMers include our neighbors, friends, coworkers, and classmates, and they are an irreplaceable part of our community’s fabric. Not only do they add to California’s rich culture, they also add $11 billion in GDP for our state.

Education leaders know firsthand how integral DREAMers are to our schools. DREAMers are our students, working hard to pursue college degrees and their dream careers, and our staff and teachers, investing their time and energy into make sure that all KIPPsters are achieving their full potential.

At KIPP, we believe strongly in supporting our students to and through college, and DACA has helped open the doors to higher education for thousands of them. There are approximately 72,300 undocumented college students, half of whom are in DACA, enrolled in California’s public colleges and universities. To rip these young Californians from their homes, schools, and families is unimaginably cruel.

Public schools like KIPP LA have a legal and moral obligation to teach all children — regardless of citizenship status — and our duty to them does not stop there. The KIPP network is working with other educators and businesses across the nation to press Congress to create a bipartisan policy solution to DACA. In California, we are partnering with the ACLU of Southern California to urge California’s Republican members of Congress to create a roadmap to citizenship for DREAMers and protect them from deportation.

Our young people should not be pawns in a political game. I hope you will join us in telling Congress that California is home to us all, documented or undocumented, and urge them to pass a clean, permanent DREAM Act. It’s time to remove that dark cloud hanging over too many classrooms and communities – so students like those in Mrs. Morfin classroom, can once again focus on learning, growing, and dreaming.

Marcia Aaron is CEO of KIPP LA Schools