When a country declares education to be a priority, it demonstrates a clear vision of the path to a more developed society. An investment in education implies the development of the nation, it gives citizens the opportunity to cultivate their own minds and instills within them the capacity to be leaders. An investment in education produces conscientious citizens who are responsible for the role they are to play in a productive society and the world.
In 2013, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announcing the Global Education First initiative said, “People today often ask about my country’s transformation from poverty to prosperity. Without hesitation, I answer that education was the key.”
In 2017, on Sept. 5, President Trump announced the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a program which offered opportunities for development to those who were brought into the country as children, a country which they know to be their native land where they have built their lives.
The end of DACA will affect approximately 800,000 young people who have sought to reach their universal right to education here in this country. For them, DACA has been an opportunity to feel part of the only country they have ever known, not in the shadows but in the light. DACA is the face of María, José, Jorge, or Camila, who were able to walk free from the fear of being detained, or drive without the fear of being arrested. For many families, DACA has provided opportunities which have kept them out of poverty and all that poverty implies. These families, who arrived over a decade ago with the courage to seek out a better life for their children, learned to survive and guide their children through the complex process of assimilation to a new culture in the so-called “land of dreams.”
In Los Niños Primero, a nonprofit organization that helps underserved Latino children from age 3 to be successful in school and develop passion for learning, we have seen the faces of many DACA recipients. As children, they found the space to grow and learn English. They were able to build a solid foundation from which successful academic careers could blossom. Thanks to DACA, these children had the space to create, a space where their parents could build hope.
These same children have matured into self-assured young people. María, José, Jorge or Camila, they have since graduated from high school, and pursued their dreams on to higher education, never losing hope of attaining a college education. They, who were once children, now return to the program having developed a sense of social responsibility to help others in their community, and contribute in service of an organization that opened its doors to them when they were only 3 and 4 years old.
The suspension of DACA ends a world of possibilities: the dream of escaping poverty, of being prosperous citizens. María, José, Jorge and Camila won’t be added to the list of graduates, or doctors or engineers, now they will go back to believing that the opportunities they’ve longed for are simply not for them.
As community leaders in this country, who have seen the enrichment of our society thanks to diversity and the desire that this group of young people have to thrive, we have the individual and collective responsibility to let it be known that DACA recipients are brave human beings who are making this nation extraordinarily great.
Maritza Morelli is executive director of Los Niños Primero, a Sandy Springs-based nonprofit organization that helps underserved Latino children.