Way back in 2004, long before the Obama administration implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), I studied Spanish with Yesica, a woman from my church who was an aspiring elementary school teacher. At the time, she was in her late 20s and was still finishing her bachelor’s degree.
For the previous seven years, she had been taking one course per semester.
As you might have guessed, she was undocumented and could only pay for one course at a time. Meanwhile, her younger sister, born here and a U.S. citizen, was attending Notre Dame on substantial financial aid. But that didn’t bother Yesica too much—she just kept going. I admired her patience and her absolute refusal to be deterred from her ultimate goal.
Years later, DACA eased the way to college and work for about 800,000 young men and women like Yesica—children born elsewhere, then brought to the United States. In the five years DACA has been around, these young men and women have gone to and through college, found jobs and started businesses. According to an Economist editorial, among those over age 25, more than 90 percent are employed and they create businesses at twice the rate of the U.S. population as a whole.
“If you could design people to look like an adornment to America, they would look like the recipients of DACA,” the editors wrote.
Now the future is in jeopardy for DACA recipients while national politicians, including our president, bluster about immigration. But here in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and school chief Forrest Claypool have pledged that the city will continue to welcome Dreamers and their immigrant families regardless of national politics.
Star Scholarship Helps Chicago Walk the Talk for Dreamers
Perhaps the most significant way in which they are walking their talk is through the Star Scholarship program, which provides tuition and books for college-ready Chicago Public Schools graduates with a B average or higher who attend junior college at the City Colleges of Chicago.
Recently, USA Today reported that more than 20 percent of Star Scholarship recipients were ineligible to apply for federal financial aid, a likely indication of undocumented immigrant status.
Since 2013, Chicago Public Schools has also raised more than $30,000 for the Chicago Dream Fund, which offers scholarships to undocumented students attending a variety of colleges and universities. Students have received anywhere between $250 and $2,000 to assist with expenses in their first year of college. “We’ll continue that this year,” says Ernesto Matias, chief of language and cultural education for the district.
Thanks to Chicago’s commitment as a sanctuary city, says Matias, “I am absolutely confident we will continue to support our students. Just because you don’t have your papers yet doesn’t mean your dreams stop at high school.”