When she was 8 years old, Karen entered the United States as an undocumented immigrant. Since Karen was two years old, her mother had been working in the U.S. to support her children. Raised by her grandmother in El Salvador, Karen was meeting her mother in person for the first time in six years.
Now 18, Karen is a successful first-year student at Davidson College considering a major in psychology. Although her path to citizenship remains unclear, Karen can pursue her education through the generosity of the Golden Door Scholars, a nonprofit organization that awards scholarships to exceptionally talented, high-performing undocumented students.
Recently, the future of people like Karen has triggered increasingly contentious public debate. President Obama’s executive orders – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents – defer immigration enforcement, or deportation, for individuals like Karen and their parents for two years (the deferment can be renewed). These policies may affect more than 5 million people including thousands in Charlotte.
As leaders of a nationally recognized liberal arts college and a billion-dollar company, we understand the importance of welcoming undocumented immigrants into American society and our community. When participating in the classroom, immigrant students demonstrate that a text, lesson or problem is fully explored only when it is tackled from a wide variety of perspectives. When these students enter the workforce, they build creative, dynamic, nimble organizations that can thrive in changing environments and provide access to untapped populations of customers.
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DACA immigrants positively affect the communities they join. A June 2014 study by the American Immigration Council found that around 60 percent of DACA beneficiaries obtained a new job and a driver’s license, and 45 percent increased their job earnings. The report notes, “Because new jobs and increased earnings translate into a greater tax base, DACA is also providing an important boost to the economy.”
Most importantly, the report states that economic benefits are greater for DACA individuals who attend four-year colleges while acknowledging, “financing postsecondary education remains a challenge.” Indeed, DACA students cannot obtain in-state tuition at institutions of higher education in North and South Carolina.
Making dreams reality
This is why institutions such as Davidson and Golden Door have partnered to create a pipeline to educate and graduate DACA students. According to its statement of purpose, Davidson seeks to make vigorous education attainable for students “of good character and high academic ability, irrespective of economic circumstances, who share its values and show promise for usefulness to society.” Golden Door Scholars helps Davidson make this mission a reality.
On Thursday, we will bring this discussion to the Charlotte community with a film screening of the documentary “Underwater Dreams.” From acclaimed director Mary Mazzio, “Underwater Dreams” tells the story of young undocumented Mexican immigrants who learn to build a robot using Home Depot parts, and subsequently take on engineering powerhouse MIT in a robotics competition. The private screening will be held at The Duke Endowment, and will be followed by a panel discussion with Mazzio.
The story of “Underwater Dreams” illustrates that, with a little opportunity and minimal support, DACA students can be their own best advocates. These students demonstrate remarkable fortitude as they plot uncertain courses as undocumented immigrants in America, while also juggling the many obligations of the modern student. They work diligently to build their lives while enduring the thoughtless stereotyping that accompanies the label “illegal.” And partnerships like the one we have established between Davidson and Red Ventures/Golden Door Scholars further enhance the educational and life opportunities for these talented students.
Karen knows about these challenges too well, but she has high hopes for where her education will take her. In fact, she is counting on her Davidson education to break the cycle of poverty that her family has known for years.
She confides, “I don’t see my status as a DACA student as a burden. I see it as the adversity I’ve overcome, and what makes me different from other students. I’ve realized that I can be a role model to other immigrants, my siblings and my future children, and show them that it is possible to achieve your dreams.”