Even with help from Utah, DACA students may still face a rocky road to graduation

Utah has made strides to support education for beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – a program that helps so-called “dreamers” who entered the United States illegally while they were children. DACA protects them from deportation and allows them to obtain driver’s licenses, social security numbers and work permits.

Yet the path to college graduation remains a challenge for many DACA recipients.

“I remember telling my mother that I would be the first. Sería el primero,” Sam Aguilar, 31, said on stage at the University of Utah’s 2022 graduation ceremony. “The first to go to college, to graduate. These words were the ‘Dreamer’ in me, el soñador. I was not yet touched by the realities of the world.

Aguilar is one of approximately 8,500 active DACA recipients in Utah, according to U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Aguilar and his family moved to Salt Lake City in 1997 when he was 6 years old.

His first attempt at college was cut short. He was ineligible for federal student aid, and when his money and scholarships ran out, he left school to work full-time.

The creation of DACA in 2012 rekindled his dream of finishing college and he returned to the United States. But he said state financial support was not enough and he struggled under the weight of family responsibilities, a full-time job and a full class. charge.

“It can really be a defeat and put you in a place where you wonder, ‘Is it worth it? “, Did he declare.

In 2002, the state legislature passed HB 144, which provides eligible undocumented students, including DACA recipients, access to in-state tuition. In 2021, the Utah Board of Higher Education unanimously adopted a resolution in support of undocumented and DACA-eligible students in the state. He also asked the board to expand resources for these students in collaboration with colleges, universities and K-12 schools.

However, more should be done, said Liliana Bolaños, a paralegal at an immigration law firm in Lehi and a “dreamer” herself. She would like to see financial resources and scholarships, as well as access to work permits for undocumented migrants.

“So that we don’t have to carry the entire load on our backs as we try to navigate the American educational establishment,” she said.

Like many other DACA recipients, Bolaños learned to keep quiet about his immigration status in order to protect his family. Yet driving change in the legislature starts with realizing the problem, she said.

“It would be great for DACA recipients in Utah to be able to shine a light on them,” she said. “To talk about their lives, to come forward so people can put names and faces to these policies and see how unfair they really can be at times.”

Bolaños hopes more people will step up and advocate for change.

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