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Dreamers at UMKC face uncertain future

The Trump administration announced an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last week. The program’s phase out begins March 5, 2018 and recipients of the DACA program will be vulnerable to deportation if Congress is unable to pass legislation protecting them within the six-month timeframe.

‘Dreamers’ is the affectionate name given to the estimated 800,000 nationwide recipients of the DACA program. These men and women were brought to the country as children, and through the program were able to obtain legal status and work permits until a permanent immigration reform is passed by Congress. The UM system has over 35 students who are recipients of DACA.

Maria Franco, a Dreamer and student activist, gathered with friends and family to watch the announcement Tuesday. Instead of President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered the news of the decision to end DACA.

“My immediate thought was that I have to quit school and start working two jobs, so that if I go back to Mexico, I have my money, I have something to start with so I wouldn’t have to be living in the streets. I don’t want to live in the streets,” said Franco. “At the same time, I have faith that people will step up and be compassionate.”

Compassion is one reason Franco can afford to attend UMKC. Under Missouri law, DACA recipients must pay international rates, putting tuition at an unreachable price point for most Dreamers.

Maria Franco joined protestors at the Plaza last week to speak against President Trump’s decision to end DACA. (Source Show Me Progress).
Maria Franco joined protestors at the Plaza last week to speak against President Trump’s decision to end DACA. (Source Show Me Progress).

Fortunately, private donors contribute enough to pay for many of UMKC Dreamers’ international fees. Despite this assistance, Franco still finds herself working up to sixty hours a week as a line cook in order to make ends meet.

According to Franco, many DACA recipients work low-wage, entry level jobs that she feels many American citizens simply don’t want.

At my job, they are always hiring, people are always walking in and out like crazy. Whose job am I taking? There are plenty of open positions there,” said Franco, rebutting a claim made by Sessions that DACA has “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”

Franco was brought to the United States when she was about two years old. In all ways except for her legal status, she feels a part of American society.

“If I am ever deported and go back to my country, I’m going to be discriminated against because I don’t know how to speak Spanish as fluently as everyone in Mexico. I was raised in this culture and I’ve been assimilated,” said Franco.

Many other DACA recipients are in similar situations, and almost all are in college or already living productive adult lives.

“Many have now graduated from colleges here, and have jobs that are contributing to the economy in multiple ways,” said Clara Irazabal-Zuritac, a Latinx Studies Professor at UMKC.

“Losing all that investment that has been put into some 800,000 individuals would not only be a tremendous lost in and of itself, but also prevent the production they are already contributing back.”

The University of Missouri’s response to the DACA decision included a system wide email ensuring support of DACA students, as well as personal calls to DACA students detailing where to find information.

Irazabal appreciated the response, but urges students and faculty to do more. She would like to see more inter-organizational cooperation to face challenges, such as electing officials that will remove laws requiring DACA recipients to pay international tuition in Missouri.

“Today it is mostly Latino students affected by the DACA decision, but tomorrow it could be other groups as well”, said Irazabal.

Meanwhile, Franco has decided to keep pursuing her degree despite her uncertain future.

“That’s what DACA students are afraid of, that we’re being ripped away from the American Dream and the opportunities that we supposedly had.,” said Franco. “We’re trying to be better people in this country. We don’t want to be hidden in the shadows.”

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