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Protecting Dreamers

September 5, 2017
Immigration policy is complicated. The question of protecting Dreamers isn’t.

Margarita lives in Indianapolis, and was a strong student throughout high school. She took on attending college with a passion - though it is rare in her neighborhood. She applied and enrolled, and when money ran out and she could no longer afford college, she took on part-time work at La Plaza, an organization that serves the city’s Latino community (and, proudly, is a grantee of the Walton Family Foundation). Rather than forgoing college because of the daunting cost, she chose a less expensive option, enrolling at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis, where she is studying computer engineering.

A hard worker. Resilient. Motivated to serve her community. Well positioned to contribute to our economy.

This kind of American should not be forced into the shadows.

Margarita - not her real name - is a Dreamer. She was brought to the United States as a child. She’s lived here since early childhood, and knows no other country. But she’s undocumented.

Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Margarita lived with the assurance that she would not be deported. But with today’s action by the Trump administration, that protection is gone.

Losing these protections will uproot Margarita’s entire life. She will no longer be eligible to work and will have to give up her job. She will no longer be able to attend college, and will have to leave school reluctantly for the second time. She will lose her driver's license and no longer be able to drive.

Immigration policy is complicated. The question of protecting Dreamers isn’t. Whatever you may think about immigration, it makes no sense for our country to push people like Margarita - law-abiding young people who contribute to our communities - into the shadows. Currently, about 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants receive protection under DACA, which requires young people to stay in and finish school. Some 95% are in school or employed. Bipartisan estimates of the cost of ending the policy are in the hundreds of billions of dollars over a decade.

This issue is affecting young people and their families in our communities all across the country, and has touched me personally. As a former teacher and school leader, I am proud to know and have served many Dreamers. They are hard-working, smart, passionate students, teachers and young adults who bravely stepped forward five years ago when DACA launched.

They are living the classic immigrant story. They know they have to be better and work harder. Nothing is handed to them or given easily. They know they have more to prove and have the longest odds. My experience as a practitioner is that all of these factors have only motivated the Dreamers I know to overcome obstacles and beat those odds. This is what it means to be an American.

When I was the principal of Bronx Lab School, we gave students a platform to learn about how the government works and let them focus on one element of public policy. The entire school chose the Dreamer issue in order to highlight the contributions of undocumented immigrants in our high school community. The result of this exercise was a celebration of this small but mighty group of students who inspired their classmates every day.

Every child deserves a fair shot to succeed, no matter where they are from. This belief guides our work at the Walton Family Foundation, which is why we help high-quality schools across the country grow to serve more children, many of whom are Dreamers.

It is also why we cannot turn our back on these young people. Elected officials must create a policy solution and prevent the students, teachers and young adults affected by DACA from becoming the target of a political battle. And our schools must remain safe, stable learning spaces for all children and teachers.

This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

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