You’re so American! When you were younger you were in bilingual classes but after elementary school, you completed all your school assignments in English. Most of your favorite songs are in English and you remember them word for word. Aeropostale shirts with Silly Bandz are all you wore in middle school because that’s what “J-14 Just for Teens” magazine branded as cool. You are so American, you even keep up with all the celebrity drama gossip programs like TMZ report. In high school, you were in almost every club and did every extra credit assignment possible so your grades were top-tier. Finally, you graduated and got your High School Diploma. You were ready to get a job and go to college to achieve the American Dream everyone always talked about. But wait! You cannot get a job and the government will not offer you any financial aid to attend college, even though your grades were spectacular and you never got detention! Not, even, once! You are one of the thousands of young adults who were brought to the U.S when you were a child because your parents wanted you to have a better life than they did. Fortunately, it was 2012, and former President Barack Obama had signed the Deferred Action for Childhood (DACA). DACA provided for a few who were eligible a work authorization and temporary protection from deportation.1 As long as you stayed away from any legal trouble, you could study (still not eligible for financial aid), but you could work and pay taxes.
Now, fast-forward to March 2020 and you are so close to graduating with your bachelor’s degree! Since you were never eligible for financial assistance for college, you have worked extra hard at your serving job to keep up with your university’s tuition bills. Every year you pay your taxes and are an active person in your community. Even after the 2016 election and the legal attacks on DACA recipients, you remained positive and kept working towards the “American Dream”.2 Then you hear on the news of a virus called COVID-19 and before you know it, you have lost your job and are struggling to make ends meet. So when the government suggested it would help all people who lost their jobs because of Covid. You had hope once again. Only for it to be crushed when Republican Law Makers systematically excluded DACA recipients from every COVID-19 government relief bill. How is that possible? You have done everything right. Well, you are one of the thousands of DACA recipients who have been excluded by the current governing party during a pandemic.3 All DACA students struggle even harder than others to weather the pandemic.
Luz Chavez is a student at Trinity Washington University where she is triple majoring in Political Science, Education, and Sociology. She is one, of the thousands of students, who were brought to the U.S when she was a baby and is temporarily protected from deportation under the DACA program. Luz Chavez has always dreamed of becoming Secretary of the Department of Education. However, since the beginning of Covid-19, she is not so sure her dream can become a reality. Because of the pandemic, Luz Chavez has had a hard time keeping up with bills and homework. In addition, Trump’s legal attacks on the DACA program have made Luz’s future in the U.S unclear.4
Just like Luz Chavez, Lisbeth Hernandez was just a baby when she was brought to the U.S which is the only country she has ever known. Lisbeth is undocumented but has been temporarily protected under the DACA program. She is a senior at Dominican University in Chicago and hopes to become a veterinarian. Even before the beginning of the pandemic, Lisbeth had been exhausted. Since she is not eligible to receive Financial Aid, Lisbeth has a $9,000 yearly tuition bill that she pays for by working as a server. Before the pandemic, she juggled a hectic work and school schedule. Lisbeth would wake up early to attend school, then head to her serving job, and had no choice but to do her homework around midnight, the cycle would begin again the next day. Lizbeth has earned most of her tuition money working long hours every day in the summer, and weekends until the pandemic began.5
The Trump administration has relentlessly attacked the DACA program since taking office. In 2017, President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced they would be ending DACA. Jeff Sessions claimed DACA was illegal and should have never been implemented by the Obama Administration. Jeff Sessions argued that it was an overreach by the Obama Administration to decide unilaterally that such a large group of people were outside the reach of immigration law. Elaine Dukes, the Acting Homeland Security Secretary in 2017, wrote a short memo to rescind the DACA program, causing immigration advocates to sue the US Government.6 In 2019, the Supreme Court took the case after lower courts ruled that the Trump administration did not adequately explain why it was ending the program, criticizing the White House’s “capricious” explanations.7
The stress continued piling on DACA recipients when the Covid-19 pandemic began. For the safety of the population: restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and event centers closed.8 By May 2020, over 20.6 million people had lost their jobs, resulting in an unemployment rate of 14.7%, a rate not seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s.9 By the end of July 2020, there had been 646,949 deaths worldwide.10 To speed relief across the American economy the government released a $2 trillion coronavirus response bill, the CARES Act.11
In this bill, there are different elements aimed at keeping the economy going. The CARES Act provided a $2.2 trillion assistance package to help American workers, small businesses, and the industries crippled by the economic disruption caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. It added $600 per week on top of the base amount a worker receives in unemployment benefits. A one-time $1,200 check was sent to individuals who earned less than $75,000. Married couples would each receive a check with a $500 bonus per child.12
Throughout this, Lisbeth Hernandez lost her job as a server and was unable to pay her last year’s tuition bill, with her upcoming tuition bill that will also soon be due. The stress piled on when she was told she would not be receiving unemployment benefits. As a result, she is uncertain of her future and the ability to complete her education.13
Luz Chavez, thankfully, was able to keep her job throughout the pandemic. However, her mom, who worked in hospitality, along with her two younger siblings lost their jobs due to Covid-19, making Luz the sole provider for the household. This is a lot for a young college student whose legal presence is currently under constant attack.14
In the CARES Act, $12 billion was dedicated to higher education funding. The intent was to provide resources during the pandemic to guarantee people’s basic rights such as food, housing, and education.15 Half went to colleges and universities to help finance the financial impact of the pandemic on institutions. While the other half, went towards students through emergency funds to help with different needs like bills, laptops, transportation, etc. U.S Education Secretary Betsy Devos said it was up to institutions to decide who would get financial help. The U.S Education Department, then released a question-and-answer sheet for colleges and universities to clear up any confusion on this bill. Betsy Devos said, “These grants can only go to students who are eligible for federal aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act”.16 This meant, those who were brought to the U.S undocumented as children, despite having been given a right to work in the U.S under the Deferred Action Arrivals Program, were again excluded from getting any financial help.
This should have been no surprise since the government excluded immigrants systematically from the CARES Act. DACA students were left out of the $2 trillion stimulus bill that was passed. To receive a stimulus check, everyone in a household must have a Social Security Number. If anyone in the home files with individual tax identification (ITIN), the family does not qualify for assistance. The reasoning behind the decision to exclude immigrants from the CARES Act was explained by Angela Morabito, a department spokeswoman: “The CARES Act makes it clear that this was tax-payer funded relief fund should be targeted to U.S citizens, which is consistently echoed throughout the law”.17 DREAMers have been facing a financial crisis, in the middle of a pandemic, with no government help despite the fact that DACA immigrants pay about $2 billion a year in state and local taxes.18
The Supreme Court in 2020, rejected the Trump administration attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. This ruling should have reopened DACA, for new applicants and allow current DACA recipients to renew their status. However, more than a month after the ruling forcing the government to accept DACA applications, Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, announced all-new DACA applications would be rejected and the program would limit renewals to one year instead of two.19
Lisbeth Hernandez wonders why she does not get financial help when so many of her former high school classmates received big financial rewards. She was ineligible for emergency grant money, a stimulus check, and got rejected from unemployment benefits. Thankfully, Dominican University offered its students an extra $750 scholarship, and the organization Bottom Line granted her an additional $3,000 scholarship.20
Luz Chavez was also ineligible for the emergency grant money from the CARES Act. However, she is grateful she still has a job to provide for her family. If she had been eligible for financial assistance, it could have provided her family with food or helped pay some of the bills.21
Where the government chose to leave out thousands in need, Bottom Line and hundreds of organizations just like it, stepped up to provide financial relief to DACA students like Lisbeth. Mission Asset Fund: Immigrant Families Fund is a COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund that is providing financial support to immigrant families who have been left out of the federal government’s relief effort. Aliento is another non-profit that advocates for undocumented students and provided $500 to mixed-status families. In addition, organizations like Immigrants Rising’s Virtual Wellness Gatherings, hold virtual gatherings so undocumented immigrants can convene with experienced facilitators- psychologists, coaches, traditional healers—as a way to provide mental health resources to undocumented immigrants.22
Although the current administration continues to attack DACA, there is still hope. President-Elect Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election and many Dreamers breathe a sigh of relief. As of election night, Latinos went for Biden 2 in 1 because of Biden’s success with Latinos in Texas and Virginia, according to exit polls. Biden has pledged to reinstate DACA, with the Washington Post reporting that he is planning on signing an executive order to that effect immediately after taking office on January 20, 2021. In addition to reinstating DACA, Biden has promised to make Dreamers newly eligible for federal student loans and Pell Grants. He also includes Dreamers in his proposal to make two years of community college tuition-free.”They are Americans now. They should be treated as Americans now,” Biden said in response to a question about his plans for DACA.23 Reinstating DACA does not offer Dreamers a pathway to citizenship but it is certainly the first step in the right direction.