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As DACA Deadline Looms, Young Immigrants Plan for the Unknown

14 Feb 2018 10:30 am
By Alicia A. Caldwell 

Trinity Washington University, a few miles from the White House, is lining up donors to boost scholarships for about 10% of its students -- immigrants who likely can't afford tuition if they lose their permission to work in the U.S.

Eli Oh, a 30-year-old rapid response nurse at Stanford Medical Center, is exploring his employment options in Canada, Australia and his country of birth, South Korea, if he can't stay in the U.S.

A March 5 deadline is looming for Washington to come up with a resolution for nearly 700,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and currently protected from deportation. The young people, their schools and employers are beginning to make contingency plans in case they have to leave the country, or face unemployment.

Others are putting plans for career changes on hold, or moving back home with their parents, immobilized by political paralysis on immigration.

For months, Congress has been unable to resolve the fate of immigrants protected from deportation under an Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. President Donald Trump ended DACA in September, and gave Congress six months to come up with a solution. A federal court mandated the administration continue to accept renewal applications for now.

The Senate is debating immigration proposals this week. If there is no deal on DACA by the deadline, the program will end when the last work permit expires. In a tweet Tuesday, Mr. Trump said: "Wouldn't it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle. This will be our last chance, there will never be another opportunity! March 5th."

Mr. Oh moved to the U.S. in 1998, when he was 11, after his family overstayed a tourist visa. His work permit expires in October, and without an extension he won't be able to stay on as a nurse at Stanford. Leaving the U.S. would likely mean being barred from returning for at least a decade. In Canada or Australia, it could take a year or more to get his paperwork in order to be a nurse. In South Korea, he would likely face compulsory military service and have to learn to read his native language, he said.

"We grew up with uncertainty all of our lives, it's not like it's new," Mr. Oh said of his fellow DACA recipients. "Before I had nothing to offer. Now it's a little different. I can to go to Canada. I can go to Australia. I have 5 years experience. I have a lot more to lose, but I have a lot more to offer."

David Entwistle, president and CEO of Stanford Health Care, said his organization and Stanford University support a legislative solution for DACA. He hopes to keep Mr. Oh.

DACA work permits have to be renewed every two years. Former President Barack Obama created the program in 2012 as a stopgap to give Congress time to approve an immigration overhaul. That never happened.

Multiple proposals have been floated in Washington, including an offer from the White House to offer permanent protections for as many as 1.8 million young immigrants, often referred to as Dreamers, in exchange for $25 billion for a border wall and other security measures.

An August survey by the left-leaning Center for American Progress found that about 91% of DACA recipients were employed, and about 45% of those immigrants were in high school, college or graduate school.

In a November lawsuit filed in conjunction with Princeton University trustees and a Princeton student, Microsoft Corp. argued it had spent time and money to recruit and train at least 45 DACA-covered employees with the understanding that they would be allowed to legally work in the U.S.

"Given the persistent demand for high-skilled talent and the tightness of the labor supply for professionals in Microsoft's industry, the costs of recruiting employees are high and unanticipated turnover is incredibly disruptive to business plans," the company said in the lawsuit filed against the Department of Homeland Security.

At Trinity Washington University, a small liberal-arts college, about 10% of the school's roughly 1,000 female students are DACA recipients. University President Pat McGuire said those students pay tuition primarily with the help of private scholarships and jobs they work outside of school.

If DACA expires, the students won't be forced out of school, but without permission to work, staying in the U.S. may be difficult. The first class of DACA students is set to graduate from Trinity Washington in the spring.

"The thing that they are most worried about...they are worried if they won't be able to work," Ms. McGuire said.

Teach For America, a nonprofit that places teachers in rural and low-income school districts, is establishing an emergency fund to help immigrant teachers return to their home countries if they decide to leave, or pay for legal fees if they try to stay.

Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach for America, said DACA's pending expiration could mean that 164 current and former program members who are teaching in schools in 11 states could lose their permission to work -- 40 of them as early as this year. The program has a total of about 7,000 teachers.

It is too late to recruit and vet possible replacements, Ms. Villanueva Beard said. Teach for America officials aren't legally allowed to notify schools of the teachers' immigration status, so it is up to each teacher to decide how and when to tell school officials.

Losing DACA members means fewer teachers to match with schools "in places where demand greatly outpaces resources," Ms. Villanueva Beard said.

Eric Kwak, a 24-year-old native of South Korea who moved to the U.S. when he was 8, has been teaching in a Head Start program at a Chicago community center through Teach for America. His DACA work permit expires in September. Mr. Kwak, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, applied to renew his permit.

"If that doesn't work out, some of the options that I have are to go back to school to continue my education," he said. That would mean moving back to Los Angeles to live with his parents, he said, since he won't be able to afford to live on his own if he loses his job.

Write to Alicia A. Caldwell at Alicia.Caldwell@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 14, 2018 05:30 ET (10:30 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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