College diploma: source of pride and uncertainty for graduating Dreamers

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) — A group of current Washington Trinity
University graduates are proud of what they’ve accomplished but also very anxious
about the future.

These emotions
could ring true for almost any graduate, but for this group of 21 graduating Dreamers
— among the hundreds of thousands in the U.S. protected, for now, by the
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA — these feelings are
even more intense.

because many of these students who came to the United States as children when
their parents immigrated here without documentation, never imagined they would be
able to afford to go to college or graduate in four years. And now, like other
graduates across the country, they worry about financing grad school or getting
good jobs all while fearing the worst: possible deportation for themselves or
their family members as immigration laws remain in flux.

Two of
these Dreamer graduates who spoke to Catholic News Service May 10 — in between finishing
final exams and awaiting their May 19 graduation ceremony — asked that their last
names or the states where they came from not be used to protect their families. 

They are among the 20 DACA recipients who started at Trinity four years ago and
the first group of Dreamers to graduate from the school. The term “Dreamer” is
coined from the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or
DREAM Act. One student from the initial group left Trinity and two others
joined later as transfer students. The students were among 100 Dreamers who
attended the university this year.

All of
these students are recipients of scholarships from TheDream.US, a scholarship
program for DACA students that partners with colleges. Trinity was the first
Catholic college to partner with the program when it started in 2014 and two other
Catholic colleges have since joined: Dominican University, just outside
Chicago, and Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago.

who came to the United States from Mexico with her family when she was 6, said she will probably cry when she gets her diploma mainly because when
she was a senior in high school, she didn’t think she’d be able to even go to
college, let alone finish in four years.

said her mom found out about scholarship program and urged her to apply, but
Brenda was skeptical because as she put it: “No one even knew about
Dreamers” or DACA four years ago. Which means they didn’t know immigrants
without documentation don’t have access to Pell grants, federal education loans
or work-study programs and that many of them have to pay out-of-state tuition to
go to college in their home states.

who is graduating with a double major in business and international affairs, said
she wants to get her master’s and doctorate degrees, but she knows it won’t be

will be a challenge. I might have to work even harder to get financial support
to figure out how I’m going to get there, but I will,” she said with the
confidence of someone who has already worked pretty hard.

disputes a misconception that DACA students are just looking for handouts,
noting that everything she and fellow Dreamer students have attained is through hard
work. The scholarship program, for example, is only for top academic students.

competing for a spot and what we do has to be two, three, four and five times better than
everyone else,” she said. “We have to earn it.”

a graduating senior majoring in biochemistry with a minor in math, similarly stressed
the pressure to work hard and the weight of not knowing what the future holds.

22-year-old who came to the United States from Mexico with her mother and
sister when she was 8, said: “Sometimes I feel like there really is no
choice for me, no path, but then I stop and think about my family, my friends
and I just keep going because that’s the only thing I can do.”

In the
days before graduating, she kept her eyes on the ceremony itself. “I feel
that is a win — no matter what — that is definitely a win,” she said.

She doesn’t
focus on the fact that her mom won’t be able to attend her graduation. Yarely
is used to having to face challenges on her own. Like Brenda, she didn’t do
college tours nor did family members help her move in. She simply came to
Trinity on her first airplane ride, moved on campus and got to work, literally,
holding down two jobs as a student, often tutoring both college and high school

A big
unknown for her now is the future of DACA, saying she needs it to work and to
keep going to school, which she hopes will eventually be medical school. “Not
knowing if I am going to even be able to finance that it is definitely something
that makes me really scared; it makes me terrified,” she said.

year for these students has been a particular roller coaster starting last
September when the Trump administration announced the
government was terminating DACA. Multiple lawsuits have since challenged that decision
and a recent court ruling issued an order to strike down the end to DACA and
reinstate the original program while still giving the government 90 days to explain
its decision. In early May, seven states filed a lawsuit to try to end DACA.

and Brenda have seen both sides of the immigration battle. Neither of them are immune
to anti-immigrant rhetoric, but they also are grateful for support from their
families, teachers and administrators at Trinity, the scholarship program and
the Catholic Church at large.

said she has had nightmares of “being out on the streets and people yelling
to me and to my family, just yelling things that I know aren’t true,” but
she also said there are “so many great people out there. … I know people
who yell or say incredibly hurtful things are the minority so I feel like that
helps me get into perspective that America is not that way; America is not
place of hate and ugliness.”

said she is thankful “for all those who have seen there’s a gap, there’s injustice
leaving us out of opportunities just because of our status.” She has hope
from those who advocate on behalf of immigrants, especially the Catholic
Church, which she saw firsthand during an internship with U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops.

that the church is involved and wants to be involved does give me hope,”
she said, adding that church leaders “won’t be quiet about it and are
willing to stand up for us and with us.”

who has spent most of her life in this country, considers herself to be
American and said she is thankful for the opportunities here that she knows she
would not have had in Mexico.

“I love this country,”
she said, adding: “I do want to stay here and I have all the faith in God
that that will be the case.”

McGuire, president of Trinity, compared the first class of Dreamers to graduate
from the university to Trinity’s first graduating class in 1900 because both
had “vision for how a great college education can change the fortunes
of their children and families.”

In an email
to CNS, she said the Dreamer graduates were a “force for solidarity” as
students of all backgrounds, faculty, staff and alumnae offered personal
support and did advocacy work. She said the immigrant students were role models
for other students coping with discrimination and setbacks.

The Dreamers’
presence also helped the entire school community to sharpen its “sense of
mission and commitment to challenge injustice,” she said.

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Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

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