K-12 leaders urge Congress to protect young immigrants from deportation risks

Supporters of DACA and the DREAM Act protest at the office of Texas Rep. Michael McCaul in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

There is only one Georgia signatory on a letter from 55 school leaders across the nation beseeching Congressional leaders to preserve a path to citizenship for young immigrants who came to the United States as children.

Alisha T. Morgan, executive director of Ivy Preparatory Academies, signed the letter written on behalf of students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. Ivy Prep operates two charter schools in metro Atlanta. Elected in 2002 to the Georgia House at age 23, Morgan became the first African-American to represent Cobb County in the state House of Representatives. She served six terms.

There is another familiar name on the list, former Fulton Superintendent Robert Avossa, who now leads the Palm Beach, Fla., schools.

The White House announced last month it would stop  protecting the 800,000 young immigrants under DACA from possible deportation unless Congress acts on  immigration reform. DACA was put into force by an executive action by President Barack Obama in 2012. President Donald Trump rescinded it last month.

These young people — 24,99 of whom live in Georgia — are called Dreamers, and the bill that would enable them to remain in America by turning DACA into federal law is known as the DREAM  — Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors — Act.

Under DACA, they’ve been allowed to work and attend school if specific conditions were met: They came to the U.S. before age 16 and lived here since June 15, 2007. DACA recipients can obtain a driver’s license, enroll in college, hold jobs and serve in the military.

Here is the letter sent to House and Senate leaders by the school leaders:

As superintendents and chief executives of America’s public school systems — state education agencies, K-12 school districts and public charter school networks — and alumni and current fellows of the Broad Center’s education leadership programs, we come together today to urge you to take swift action to provide comprehensive, permanent stability for young people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.

Every year, about 65,000 undocumented young people graduate from our nation’s high schools, according to the American Immigration Council. We know many of them, and their families, personally. For most of them, life in the United States is all they know. Indeed, they are as American as our other students in every way, shape and form except on paper.

These young people worked hard, did what was expected of them and stayed out of trouble. But even the highest achievers among them often face significant hurdles to leading productive lives simply because their parents brought them here, beyond their control and outside the legal immigration process.

For the past five years, hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth have counted on DACA to provide them with the security to pursue a brighter future and build good, productive lives for themselves and their families. In fact, while only about two-thirds of America’s college students stay in school and complete their degrees, the CATO Institute — one of the nation’s most conservative think tanks  — reports that college persistence among DACA students is about 95 percent. 2

Even for those not on the college track, DACA allows them to participate more fully in the workforce, leading to higher earnings — which translate to higher tax revenue and economic growth. Business ownership among DACA recipients over the age of 25 is more than twice as high as the national average, and one quarter of them own their own homes. A recent report also estimates that DACA beneficiaries will contribute $460.3 billion to the U.S. economy over the next 10 years as well as $24 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions.

As educators, we know our efforts are most effective when we listen to those most affected by our work: students, families and their communities. In immigration, as in education, we urge you to listen to the youth affected by the administration’s decision to end DACA and their families, communities, teachers and employers.

We also urge you to listen to the American people at large. Across party lines, three out of four registered voters in the United States support DACA. We are encouraged that some members of Congress are already working to find a solution on DACA. But we need more forward progress. Congress must find a permanent, meaningful, bipartisan solution as swiftly as possible to help these young people and, indeed, our entire nation.

Thank you for your consideration of our views. We welcome the opportunity to serve as a resource to you as you continue efforts to strengthen federal law.