Much has been said over the past several months about America and what it means to be an American.
Here’s what I call an American: a child who grows up in one of our communities and befriends our own children; who absorbs our values while helping to bridge the gaps between cultures; who becomes fluent in our language despite being raised on another; who goes to school every day with dreams of a bright future; who avoids the pitfalls that come with growing up in poverty; who pursues higher education even though no one else in his or her family ever has; who brings a fresh perspective to scholarly research that positively affects the state or nation or world; and who gives back to their community, following the example of the many people who supported them along their difficult journey.
There are hundreds of students with stories like this at UC Merced, and our campus and region have unquestionably benefited from their presence. And that’s why I urge the incoming presidential administration to support the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
Signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2012, DACA allows undocumented students who meet a strict set of guidelines to legally work in the U.S. without fear of deportation. DACA requires that its participants have not been convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanor and do not otherwise pose a threat to our national security.
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To qualify for DACA, a person must have lived in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007; be at least 15 years old; be a current student, a high school graduate or a GED recipient; or be an honorably discharged military veteran.
DACA allows these students to impact society by working on world-changing research, contributing to new knowledge that has the potential to improve the quality of life of people here in the U.S. and around the globe. They are not a drain on our economy; they have the potential to become part of the vital fuel to our country’s economic engine.
Most of us come from families who arrived as immigrants – some recently and some decades ago – to this great nation. We have all benefited from the multitude of ethnicities and cultures that exist here, and our society is incalculably enriched by its diversity.
The parents of our undocumented students did not enter our country legally, often because of enormous pressure to escape poverty and violence for the sake of their families. But their children who grew up here have become part of the great American dream.
Our DACA students are American in every other way that matters. Some have served honorably in our armed forces. They are law abiding. They have worked hard to learn a new language, adapt to new ways and excel as students. They are an important part of our future, and they give me hope.
Dorothy Leland is chancellor of the University of California, Merced. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.