Broken promises, amazing strength, and heartbreak are common among young and undocumented students in the U.S. since the Executive Order authorizing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was signed in 2012. Before that order, to be undocumented and prohibited a path to citizenship was to live with fear, feeling the emotional and physical need to disappear at any time.
Since 2012, students across the country have experienced attempts to expand the reach of the order, attempts to rescind the order, an end to new applications, threatened ends and inexplicable delays to renewals, conflicting court decisions, targeted deportations, and constantly shifting practices regarding tuition and financial aid. At the same time, artistic, academic, and entrepreneurial accomplishments from within have proven the power of opportunity. Organized advocacy among those affected has grown.
State by state, the opportunities (or lack thereof) for students with DACA and siblings vary. In 2019, Missouri is one of just six states requiring undocumented students to pay double and triple the tuition being paid by their classmates at public colleges. For about 24 hours last week, it looked like Missouri would do the right thing and change this practice.
Tuesday, May 7 – CHANGE
The bi-partisan, bi-chamber conference committee approved a higher education budget which, for the first time in four years, did not require undocumented students to pay double or triple tuition. That afternoon, a student who had met with lawmakers wrote,
“I cried tears of joy. Because finally I feel so worthy.
And we finally got a win after years and years of fighting.
May the next generations never be limited in following their dreams.
May they never have to feel unwelcomed.
May they never feel unworthy as a student or human.“
Wednesday, May 8 – COMMUNITY OF SUPPORT
Missouri’s apparent change of heart was announced in local and national media, as well as among students and advocacy organizations. By the end of the day, a conference committee was called for 9:00 a.m. May 9 on a “motion to reconsider.” Uncertainty swirled about procedure, since it is customary to honor the decisions of the conference committee. The May 10, 6:00 p.m. constitutionally mandated deadline for budget approval loomed. Advocates spent the evening phoning, emailing, and tweeting members of the conference committee to thank them for their position and encourage them not to waiver.
Thursday, May 9 – STRATEGY UNLEASHED
At 7:30 a.m., the hearing called for 9:00 a.m. was cancelled. In late morning, the full House was called into session. Debate was intentionally limited. Punitive tuition language was returned to the House budget and referred to conference committee.
Conference committee was reconstituted, replacing some members of the committee that had voted to strike the language from the bill. HB3, the higher education budget with language requiring undocumented students to pay double and triple tuition, was then passed by the new conference committee.
Friday, May 10 – BUSINESS AS USUAL
Budget for the state of Missouri was approved by both chambers by the deadline and sent to the Governor for signature (note that the Governor’s initial higher education budget did not include the punitive language on tuition policy). Nothing changed.
Truth is, undocumented students and their families have become accustomed to legislative and judicial roller coasters that affect them significantly. Here are some student reactions to Friday morning’s post announcing the reversal and the continuation of punitive tuition policy:
“I should have known better”
“MO took two steps forward and 10 steps back within a matter of days”
“To my friends and family, this is not the end, you are not alone, and I hear you.”
As students (out of force of habit) largely shrugged and carried on, advocates were devastated, outraged. News of Missouri’s commitment to remaining repressive travelled fast. And, even after 30 years in this position and 58 on this earth, I learned all over again that our students have become accustomed to disappointment, determined to dream, and theirs are certainly words of faith.
– Faith Sandler