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USA Today Highlights DACA’s 10th Anniversary and Shares Powerful Stories from TheDream.US Alums

For Immediate Release: August 19, 2022

Contact: Michael Earls at [email protected]

USA Today Highlights DACA’s 10th Anniversary and Shares Powerful Stories from TheDream.US Alums 

Washington D.C. –  In recognition of the 10th anniversary of DACA’s implementation, USA Today has published a powerful feature outlining DACA’s impact through the lens of stories and successes of Dreamers, including TheDream.US scholars and alumni. With the future of DACA uncertain due to continued legal challenges, the stories make a compelling case for why we need a legislative breakthrough.

The following are excerpts from several of the stories of DACA recipients affiliated with TheDream.US and featured in USA Today:

William Avilez, 28, Atlanta: William Avilez withered away on a friend’s couch, depression keeping him from doing much… He was undocumented, with minimal college and job prospects, and had been kicked out of his home by his stepfather for being openly gay. … One day, his mother called, he had been approved for DACA. His future opened up again. Avilez cried on the couch. “It was such a huge relief,” said Avilez, now 28. “I could start working and figuring out my future.”

Avilez is now a lead research coordinator in the infectious disease division at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and is pursuing a master’s degree in health administration – opportunities spawned by DACA.

Mike Jonathan, 30, Chicago: Mike Jonathan was on the commuter train. Ahead lay another 11-hour shift at a Chinese restaurant for tips, followed by sharing a room in a cramped two-bedroom apartment with five other undocumented workers. Jonathan arrived in the Chicago area from Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2001 as a 10-year-old boy with his mother and brother shortly after his father died.

As the train rumbled north toward Des Plaines that day, Jonathan pulled out his smartphone to check the status of his DACA application. “APPROVED,” it read, next to a green checkmark….“I literally thought it was a dream,” he remembered. “I had to pinch myself.”

DACA allowed him to quit the Chinese restaurant and move to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he attended Broward College, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in data analytics. “My dream goal is to give back to the communities that have always guided me in life,” he said.

Sam Murrillo, 23, Indiana: Guidance counselors told her that because she was undocumented, finding a scholarship to college wouldn’t be possible. She should just get a job, they said. Murillo searched online for “scholarships for undocumented students.” She found three, applied and waited. Four months later,  She had been awarded a full ride to Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., from TheDream.US, a college access program for DACA recipients. “It was honestly just like the best birthday present ever,” she said. “My whole family and I started crying.” That excitement wouldn’t last.

In August 2021, her status expired after political delays… It took more than four months to get her status back. The immigration limbo cost Murillo her first job out of college.  She broke down crying. Although she landed another job as an associate scientist, she worries it could be just a matter of time until another DACA delay leaves her without a paycheck.

Nour Kalbouneh, 26, Wisconsin: The tuition bill was a staggering $20,000 for the semester. Nour Kalbouneh stared at the billing statement in shock. Why was she being charged an extra $14,000 for international student tuition when she had spent most of her childhood in Wisconsin?

Kalbouneh met with the bursar’s office. The official was polite but firm: Without legal immigration status, she had to pay international student rates. She could no longer afford her dream school.

She spent the next few years working odd jobs, then stumbled upon TheDream.US. With their help, she was able to attend and graduate from Eastern Connecticut State University with a political science degree. Fueled by her earlier setback, she graduated with a 4.0 GPA, was class president, and gave the commencement speech at graduation.

DACA has been invaluable, she said, but she still can’t travel abroad or vote. “It’s a short-term solution for a long-term problem,” Kalbouneh said. “It’s not enough.”

Faten Hamadna, 22, Florida: Faten Hamadna saw the hours and effort her father poured into the Stop & Shop where he worked. She was proud of how hard he worked to keep food on their table. But was this the life for her? As an undocumented high school student, her options were limited.

Brought to Florida from the Palestinian territories when she was 4, Hamadna grew up American. Her goal was to be the first member of her immediate family to go to college. But her family couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition and she couldn’t land a decent-paying job without a work permit. Her grades slipped. Then a Guatemalan friend told Hamadna about DACA.

 When she received her acceptance letter, Hamadna, tears welling in her eyes, texted her dad: “I think it’s going to work,” along with a picture of the letter. “That was the start of my future.”

Thanks to a scholarship through TheDream.US, which helps undocumented young people, Hamadna, now 22, will graduate with an associate’s degree from Broward College in the fall.

“Without DACA, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.”

The following is a reflection from Gaby Pacheco, TheDream.US Director of Advocacy, Development, and Communications:

“When I think back on DACA’s implementation ten years ago, I think of the images from across the country, showing the incredible demand of young immigrants and their families who gathered by the hundreds and thousands to participate in this country more fully.

The images were a reminder that when there is actually a ‘line’ to get into, immigrants are happy to take part – registering, applying, and even paying fees to no longer live in the shadows. DACA offers a reminder, and hundreds of thousands of examples, that when there is an opportunity, immigrants seize the chance to not only strengthen their own families’ futures but workplaces, communities, campuses, and the whole country in the process.”

About TheDream.US

TheDream.US is the nation’s largest college and career success program for undocumented immigrant youth, having provided more than 8,750 college scholarships to Dreamers attending over 70 partner colleges in 19 states and Washington, DC. We believe everyone, regardless of where they were born, should have equitable access to a college education, a meaningful career, and opportunities to contribute to the communities they call home.