DACA recipients have helped build the American dream. It's time to give them a path to citizenship.

·4 min read

Ten years ago – on June 15, 2012 – young undocumented students won a breakthrough victory with the announcement of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA was the result of the sustained and courageous advocacy of countless “Dreamers,” who shared their own immigration stories and hopes for the future.

DACA has proved to be one of the most successful immigration programs ever. More than 800,000 individuals brought here as children have relied on DACA work permits, deportation protections and other opportunities to pursue higher education and join the workforce. Rather than living in the shadows, undocumented children who met the program’s criteria finally had the opportunity to chart a future determined by their own dreams and hard work.

DACA is a success. But it could end soon.

Today, however, DACA is at grave risk. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing a case on the legality of DACA. A decision ruling against the program could come down later this summer.

Despite the continued legal challenges, a strong majority of Americans, including most Democrats and most Republicans, support a law that would permanently give Dreamers the chance to live and work legally in America – the country they call home. On DACA’s 10th anniversary, Congress must answer this call and avert the impending disaster of judicial abolition.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Millions of parents want to work but can't afford child care. Congress must act.

As university leaders, we have seen firsthand the difference DACA has made for its recipients and for our nation. DACA students have become campus leaders; earned bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees; and graduated to being nurses, doctors, lawyers and scientists. They have become highly valued employees, enlisted in the military and started thriving businesses. And as they’ve grown older, they’ve bought homes, started families and helped communities grow stronger through their charitable work and civic engagement.

Equality: White privilege may be real, but economic class is a bigger factor in driving inequality

People march in support of a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in New York City in 2021.
People march in support of a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in New York City in 2021.

At a time when our nation is suffering severe labor shortages, with consequences ranging from rising inflation to diminished economic growth, we need the talents of young undocumented people. But we cannot realize Dreamers’ potential without making the protections and opportunities afforded by DACA permanent.

Because DACA was not created by Congress, it has been at risk since its inception. A judge could strike down DACA, or a president could rescind the program, as President Donald Trump attempted to do in 2017.

Just apologize and fix it: Lizzo's handling of offensive lyric a stark contrast to the 'Suck it up, snowflake' crowd

We formed the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration because we knew that DACA was worth fighting for. Our alliance gave college and university presidents a stronger voice for addressing the many immigration issues that impact our students, campuses and communities.

Together, we successfully helped defend DACA. In 2020, the Supreme Court found the Trump administration’s order ending DACA violated the Administrative Procedure Act, giving it a new lease on life. But the judicial challenge that DACA faces in the 5th Circuit Court today is graver still. Overnight, DACA holders could lose all they’ve worked for. Their schools, employers and our nation would lose, too.

America loses when DACA ends

Instead of waiting for this devastating result, it is time to build on the success of DACA and pass Dream legislation once and for all. In the past decade, DACA has proved why expanding opportunities for Dreamers is good for all of us. DACA holders and other immigrant youth deserve a pathway to citizenship – not just permanent second-tier status and never-ending anxiety about their futures.

Every year, about 100,000 Dreamers graduate U.S. high schools. All students deserve the chance to make the most of their talents and give back to the communities where they grew up. A legislative fix would not only offer a way for today’s Dreamers to become U.S. citizens, but also make these students eligible for Pell grants, reducing the financial barriers to a college education.

As educators, we view the 10th anniversary of DACA with great pride. Young, undocumented people are burning with a desire to make the most of their talents, to repay their parents for the sacrifices they made, and to give back to the nation that raised them. In the stories, dreams, and accomplishments of DACA holders, we see the drive that made our country what it is today. We believe Congress should declare the program a success and enshrine a pathway for Dreamers’ citizenship into law once and for all – just as a majority of all Americans would have them do.

The authors are co-founders of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration and co-chairs of its Steering Committee. Louis Caldera is a former secretary of the Army and was president of the University of New Mexico; Nancy Cantor is chancellor of Rutgers University, Newark; and Elsa Núñez is president of Eastern Connecticut State University.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DACA 10th anniversary: Give 'Dreamers' a path to citizenship