Editor’s note: The students’ names in the following story have been changed to protect their identities.
For Megan, an undocumented sophomore at Belmont, President Donald Trump’s ruling on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Tuesday morning threw her life into disarray.
“I’m trying to get a degree. That’s all I can do. There’s nothing to be hopeful about. Nothing.”
Megan — who has lived in the United States since she was 2 — dreamt of attending medical school after graduating from Belmont. Now, with the realization that she may only have two years in the only country she’s ever known, Megan just wants a degree that will get her a job anywhere.
“Basically I just need something universal, that won’t leave me jobless past 2020.”
DACA, a program instated during the Obama administration, shielded children of undocumented immigrants from deportation while they were actively working or enrolled in school. This status needed to be renewed every two years, but while under the program, they were not at risk for deportation.
But now, the futures of over 800,000 DACA recipients hang in the balance.
With DACA officially rescinded, no new applications will be accepted and recipients of the program will be eligible for deportation once their status runs out at the end of their two year period.
This means some DACA students may be eligible for deportation as early as March.
Deportation is a real fear for freshman DACA recipient James who came to the United States from Mexico with his mother at age 5.
“One of my closest friends got deported — his whole family got deported, and their daughter got left behind because she was born here,” he said.
Now James fears for his younger sister – the only member of his immediate family born in the U.S.
“That’s what I worry about,” he said, tearing up at the thought of her being left behind.
For James, though, DACA wasn’t just a safe-haven from deportation. It was his motivator to stay in school and come out of his shell, something he struggled with after learning of his undocumented status.
“I remember before I went to high school, I wanted to drop out because what was the point to keep on pursuing a career, because it was unwise to hope for something you knew couldn’t happen. But then DACA came in, and that’s when it changed.”
With DACA he had hope.
James jumped head first into AP classes and decided to attend college, a thought foreign to him before.
But now, with the announcement of DACA’s phase out, he tries to remain optimistic.
“You start to think whether all this was for nothing. You start to feel depression, anxiety. I haven’t eaten all day,” he said. “You get distracted in your classes. I started thinking what I was thinking about in eighth grade — will my opinion matter?”
These feelings of hopelessness and anxiety are feelings that Belmont acknowledges, said Provost Dr. Thomas Burns.
“I am anxious for the students here and anywhere that are experiencing anxiety because of this. I want to believe, if I have faith in our government and how things work, that this is an opportunity for longer term protection for students who are in this situation,” Burns said. “Those who are DACA eligible now are appropriately stressed and anxious. I feel for them, and I pray for them, and I want them to find peace and comfort, but I know that it’s a difficult time.”
For any students struggling after hearing the news, Burns urges them to utilize university support services.
“You can contact the Dean of Students office, Counseling Services, really anyone you feel comfortable talking to about whatever your challenges are,” said Burns. “All our services are available and we’re happy to help you and support you. As a university, I think we’re all here to help support our students in any way we can.”
Because Belmont does not ask applicants to prove their citizenship on applications, the university doesn’t know who the DACA students are unless they self-identify. This makes it difficult for the university to know who to help unless they specifically ask for it, said Burns.
But despite the university’s show of support, Megan says she is unsure of where to turn.
“Belmont doesn’t really know what to do. They don’t have that one person to go to, and that’s what really hurts. They don’t actually have anyone who can help me understand what status I am,” she said.
“There’s no one for DACA. What am I supposed to do?”
The lack of public understanding about DACA is one of the biggest barriers to change taking place, said James, who sometimes still faults himself for not telling more people about his DACA status growing up.
“In middle school, I would deny that I was a DACA student, I would deny that I was illegal because of that fear of my voice being heard,” he said. “But then I feel like it’s my fault because the perception of illegal immigrants was bad and if I would’ve told them I was DACA status, I could’ve influenced them.”
There are a lot of things Megan and James say they would like to tell Congress. At the top of Megan’s list: “I’m American.”
“This is supposed to be the land of opportunity. Give me an opportunity.”