New Class of Dreamers Get Scholarships, but Not DACA Status Under Trump

Hundreds of undocumented students in the U.S. have just been granted scholarships through a program aimed at rewarding high-achieving students that came to the country as "Dreamers"—children who reside in the U.S. without documentation.

Yet, despite being recognized as some of the highest-performing pupils in the country, the majority of students receiving a scholarship through TheDream.US program for the 2020-2021 year have been unable to obtain protected status through the U.S.'s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows Dreamers to live, study and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

According to data shared exclusively with Newsweek, of the roughly 1,200 students receiving TheDream.US scholarships for the 2020-21 year, just over a third have been able to obtain DACA status. This represents a significant decline from last year.

In the 2019-20 year, 73 percent of recipients of TheDream.US's "National" scholarship, which makes of the majority of the organization's scholarships, had DACA protections. In the 2020-21 year, however, just 35 percent of students benefited from the program.

Meanwhile, 85 percent of recipients of TheDream.US's "Opportunity" scholarship, had DACA status in the 2019-2020 class. This year, of the 95 students who received the scholarship, only 62 percent had DACA status.

The National Scholarship provides high school or community college graduates with up to $14,500 for an associate's degree and $29,000 for a bachelor's degree, while the Opportunity scholarship provides up to $80,000, which covers tuition, fees, and on-campus housing and meals for a bachelor's degree for students who live in "targeted, locked-out states where they cannot get in-state tuition."

Trump admin '100 percent' to blame

The Trump administration, the president of TheDream.US Candy Marshall told Newsweek, is "100 percent" to blame for the significant drop in scholars with DACA status.

"From the moment that Trump was elected, even before he came into office...Dreamers were living in fear," Marshall said. "They knew that they had a very unfriendly president and one who had threatened to undo DACA from day one."

"Those with DACA were very concerned that their information would be used to deport their families. They were afraid that they would lose their DACA status and be unable to support themselves and their families and they were afraid they would not be able to pursue their dreams of education because they would be unable to afford it," she said.

And now, in the wake of the Trump administration's efforts to rescind the program, would-be DACA recipients were forced to give up hope of receiving protections for the near future.

Even now, after the Supreme Court ordered the government to reopen applications after ruling against the Trump administration's bid to terminate the DACA initiative, potential applicants are still afraid of what the repercussions could be if they were to register under the program.

As a result, Marshall said, the majority of TheDream.US scholars are entering college and university with the full knowledge that they could one day find themselves deported out of the country they are looking to build a future in.

'I've always considered myself an American'

Angel, an 18-year-old student set to study biomedical science and political science at the university of his choice thanks to his TheDream.US scholarship, is among the scholars who will be entering university without DACA status.

When Angel, whose last name has been withheld for fear of being targeted by immigration authorities, first learned he had won the sought-after scholarship, he was overjoyed—and relieved.

"I spent a lot of time fantasizing over getting that scholarship because it's something a lot of people in the community talk about," he said.

For Angel, it was the difference between being forced to study out of state, or getting to stay closer to his family and pursue his dreams of eventually becoming a lawyer to support people living in the U.S.

Earning the scholarship, Angel said, was no easy task. For the 18-year-old, it meant putting in hours of overtime to ensure his school work and extracurriculars were as good as they could be.

"I realized early that if I wanted any opportunity to succeed, I would have to be the best, that I would have to work 20 times harder as everybody else to get the same recognition," he said.

However, for Angel, it is simply the lack of a piece of paper that reminds him that he may never be seen as an "American" to some.

"I've always considered myself an American. I know a lot of my peers would disagree, say there's no way we were American since we weren't born here. But I was raised here. I grew up with American values," he said. "Mexico is where I was born. It's the land that gave me birth. America is the place where, this is who I am."

If he were to be deported out of the country and forced to return to Mexico, a country that he left at the age of four, Angel said everything he has worked so hard for would be unraveled.

Still, he said he tries to "stay optimistic. I know it's super hard, especially in these times. No one really knows what's going to happen. I don't know what's going to happen."

TheDream.US data shows that the average age of arrival to the U.S. for scholars of the program is around 4.5-years-old for Opportunity Scholars and 5-years-old for National scholars.

The scholars this year were born across 62 different countries and live across 30 different states and Washington, D.C., with new scholars achieving a 3.5 average GPA in both high school and community college.

As long as Trump remains in office, however, Marshall said she fears hardworking students like Angel will struggle to get the protections they need to live, study and contribute to the U.S. economy without having to live in fear.

"It's unjust. And especially for a nation that has prided itself as having open arms to immigrants. And these are students...these are young people who have grown up in this country. They are for all purposes U.S. citizens, but for lack of a piece of paper."

Still, she said, even if Trump does win reelection and continues his efforts to undo the DACA program, he cannot be in power forever.

"Not all is lost," Marshall said. "And anything can happen in four years. So don't give up hope now because of what appears to be a very dire situation without knowledge of what that future might look like."

People hold signs during a rally in support of the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, in San Diego, California June 18, 2020. SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP/Getty