DACA, front and center

In this 2013 file photo, prospective students tour Georgetown University's campus in Washington. (Photo: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

A week-long national campaign among higher education organizations to spotlight the importance of DACA legislation for undocumented immigrant students kicked off Monday less than five miles from the U.S. Capitol.

The event at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., featured leaders and students from community colleges and public commuter universities in the D.C. suburbs, to the prestigious Ivy League university that overlooks the Potomac River.

Each speaker noted the importance of the plight of “Dreamers” to the social, educational and economic fabric of the country.

“This is quite possibly one of the top social justice issues of our time,” said DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College in Maryland.

(From left): Scott Ralls, president of Northern Virginia Community College; DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College; Ángel Cabrera, president of George Mason University; and John DeGioia, president of Georgetown University.

And while several of the speakers highlighted the academic success of Dreamers and their civic and community work — some striving to become lawyers, teachers and physicians — Pollard noted that it’s critical to include the Dreamers who maybe aren’t as successful yet but are just as driven to succeed. Colleges, especially open-access community colleges, provide spaces where these students — who often also juggle family and work obligations — can figure that out in a safe and stress-free environment.

College “is a place to grow and stretch,” she said. “That’s a part of what being a college student is all about.”

In September, the Trump administration announced that it will wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows certain young, undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S., but it is giving Congress a six-month window to find a solution for Dreamers.

The workforce/economic argument

Scott Ralls, president of Northern Virginia Community College, and Ángel Cabrera, president of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, both emphasized the importance of Dreamers in helping employers fill skilled worker gaps. Cabrera said businesses continuously tell college leaders that they need employees who work hard, are disciplined and deliver results — and it’s an extra plus if they have multi-cultural and leadership experience.

“Check, check, check, check. They have it all,” he said of Dreamers.

The panel agreed that the best approach to raise awareness about Dreamers is to let them tell their own stories, especially to elected officials. Pollard added that it’s also time to bring businesses into the conversation and encourage them to tell lawmakers why they need Dreamers.

The American Association of Community Colleges has teamed with other higher education organizations this week to promote and support DACA. Join the cause by signing the AACC letter calling for congressional support and use these resources to share the message.

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