Photo Credit: StateImpact Florida
On January 28, Wildin Acosta made his way to Riverside High School in Durham, N.C. As the newspapers tell it, it was then – on his way to school – that ICE agents arrested him for illegally being in the country. Wildin Acosta is a 19-year-old resident from Honduras who, according to the News and Observer, fled Honduras to escape violence and delinquency.
This arrest came only nine days after the Supreme Court of the United States chose to take on a case aimed at assessing the validity of President Obama’s 2014 executive order on immigration, which would include increased access to work permits and legal resident status. During his administration, President Obama has taken several forward-thinking steps on immigration, recognizing the necessity for inclusive immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship.
Despite this, more undocumented immigrants have been deported under President Obama’s administration than any other president. 2016 heralded a new shameful chapter in the U.S.’ history of deportation, following a deportation record of over 12,500 families deported in October and November of 2015. These are not faceless Americans; these are parents and students who are every day trying to live faithfully and normally knowing that their positions are precarious. Often, these are people who have entered the United States to flee danger and instability, whose children have been raised in this country that is, to them, their home.
Acosta, like other undocumented students, does have rights. Specifically, he has a right to public primary and secondary education according to the Supreme Court of the United States. Plyler v. Doe, a 1982 Supreme Court case, mandated that undocumented students receive public education in the United States until high school graduation. Specifically, it said that undocumented students are afforded Fourteenth Amendment protections solely as people, regardless of citizenship.
After high school, however, undocumented students face no equal protection; they can and are denied admittance to public universities due to legal status. I grew up in Athens, Georgia, home of the University of Georgia — and only in eleventh grade did I realize that so many of my classmates did not have the luxury of saying they “wanted to get out of Athens” for college. They weren’t (and aren’t) eligible for acceptance in the top five public universities in Georgia, including the University of Georgia, at all, barred from pursuing affordable educational opportunities because of choices made for them by parents seeking opportunity and security for their children. In the University of North Carolina system, where I attend, undocumented students must pay international tuition, which similarly excludes them from access; myriad barriers to gainful employment as well as financial aid make international tuition an implicit exclusion.
These students are guaranteed an education until their 12th grade conclusions, and it defies logic that this same policy would not extend into post-secondary educational opportunities. In this increasingly educated world, denying students access to post-secondary education severely limits their ability to find fulfilling and gainful employment, and the many things that correspond with it.It defies logic to arrest a child exercising their right to public education.
It is good news that Acosta’s deportation has been delayed, but he is the exception to the rule. There are countless children who have been deported because of choices made for them by parents looking for safety and opportunity. The economic benefits of pathways to citizenship have been clearly delineated but this has become moral in nature. I have received countless opportunities because of an unearned birth right, but many my age, with whom I attended high school and learned from and grew with, have been denied these same rights and are now facing deportation from the homes in which they have grown up.
In the twelfth grade my mother reminded me that my opportunities, countless and often unearned were the result of dumb luck, given to me because of the location of my birth and the family into which I was born. How many of us recognize this as luck? Recognizing our privilege in birth right is the first step to creating appreciable change that simultaneously dismantles privilege and increases opportunity for those around us, those with whom we have grown and become better, to find any semblance of a real American Dream.