As many of us countdown to the new year in the happy embrace of family, a generation of young Americans faces a countdown filled with anxiety about changes that could uproot their lives and loved ones.
This new year brings uncertainty for young people protected by the policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. When the policy was established in 2012 under President Barack Obama, it allowed thousands of immigrants who came here as children to stay in the U.S. so that they could attend school and work. This year, President Donald Trump rescinded the policy, leaving these 790,000 young immigrants vulnerable to deportation from the only country many of them have ever known unless the U.S. Congress acts by a March deadline.
And DACA recipients and their families aren’t the only ones who are worried. The future of students in the Palm Beach County School District — and students across the country — is at risk. The loss of DACA protections not only disrupts individual lives and families, but it also disrupts entire school communities — detracting from the real work of preparing students for productive and meaningful lives in a 21st-century economy.
For students, the impacts are stark. For DACA recipients in high school, uncertainty about their futures puts dreams of going to college on hold. These students — captains of the sports team, national honors award winners, student body presidents, your child’s best friend — stand to lose everything, including the only home they’ve ever known.
I know well what that fear looks like. It wasn’t long ago that I was a high school principal during a time where DACA protections were not a reality. I saw brilliant young people who overcame unimaginable obstacles, yet were denied an opportunity to complete their education. It troubles me to this day.
DACA recipients pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees will lose the ability to work, which renders most unable to afford higher education since they are already ineligible for federal financial aid. We worked hard to ensure these students are college- and work-ready upon their graduation from our school system. Without legislative action to protect these students, they lose their shot at a meaningful career and we lose valuable, productive members of society, not to mention an estimated $60 billion in tax revenue and $280 billion in economic growth over the next decade.
Ending DACA protections also takes away our students’ teachers. If DACA is not renewed, it’s estimated that 20,000 teachers nationally will face deportation. This could mean some of our most effective teachers will be taken from their classrooms, maybe even before the school year is over. We know that when we lose highly effective teachers, only 1 in 11 potential replacements will be of similar quality. And many thousands of students could be in the care of a rotating series of substitute teachers. We also stand to lose thousands of other DACA recipients who support our students every day, including paraprofessionals and school counselors, with disproportionate impact on our most vulnerable populations.
For those doing the ever-challenging work of leading schools and school systems — like Chiefs for Change members, and Future Chiefs like myself — eliminating DACA protections means having to take on a whole new set of challenges, only a few of which have been described above. Unlike the challenge of ensuring all students have access to an excellent school, or the challenge of preparing teachers to lead engaging, rigorous instruction, this challenge is one that is completely unnecessary — a distraction from the real work of educating kids.
Congress must find a solution that ensures our Dreamers continue to thrive in the country they call home.
DONALD E. FENNOY II, WEST PALM BEACH
Editor’s note: Fennoy is chief operating officer for the School District of Palm Beach County; and a participant in Chiefs for Change’s Future Chiefs program. Chiefs for Change is a bipartisan group of education systems leaders and future leaders.