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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Gaffney Benedict

DACA Gave Robert a Chance

The snow was just beginning to melt in March 2016 when I got a phone call from Robert, a student in his second year at University of Connecticut-Stamford. He told me UCONN wasn’t going to continue his scholarship, and he could not afford to go college without financial assistance. Robert chose to go to UCONN because, like other undocumented students, he did not qualify for US Government or Connecticut funded college loans. This forced him to live at home and cover his tuition costs with the money he earned working at CVS. Robert is a student with The Matthew Gaffney Foundation and he was calling us for advice.

As a child in an undocumented family, Robert learned to keep his family’s status a secret, and, like most undocumented kids, Robert lived in the shadows. In 2010 President Obama reintroduced the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors). The DREAM Act would grant a path to citizenship to Robert if he graduated from college. The DREAM Act never passed, however, in 2012 the Obama administration created DACA. It grants deferred deportation to people under 31 who came to the U.S. under the age of 16 and meet other criteria. If you apply and qualify for DACA, you’re allowed to be in the U.S. legally, apply for employment authorization, receive a Social Security number, and a driver’s license in most states.

Robert struggled with the idea of identifying himself and his family, but he knew with DACA he could have a job and earn money for school. I have learned, through experience, a few top schools and some Ivy Leagues do accept DACA students because these schools cover students’ “designated need” without using government money. Unfortunately, when Robert applied to college, he was not accepted to a school that had their own resources. Now that his scholarship was taken away, Robert knew that he would have to take time off from school to earn the money for tuition. I knew Robert had a strong work ethic and was in excellent academic standing, so I suggested he try to apply as a transfer student.

Early last spring, Swarthmore College announced they were accepting undocumented students. I knew that Robert was qualified and encouraged him to apply. Robert was placed on a wait list but continued to email the director of admission confirming his interest in the school. It was the middle of June before he got a phone call asking if he was still interested in transferring. Within hours Robert’s life changed from the prospect of working years at CVS just to be able to finish at UCONN, to receiving a full scholarship from a prestigious college.

I received an email from Robert this week. Robert decided he wanted to major in Psychology and Education. Swarthmore arranged for him to study at Harvard this semester and in August, he will be at University of Californian-Santa Cruz working as a teaching assistant through a program offered by Johns Hopkins University. “I have great news,” Robert writes, “I found out yesterday that Swarthmore accepted 21 DACA students into the class of 2021. It is so exciting; Swarthmore is opening its doors and welcoming undocumented students.”

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