By Donald E. Graham
Every company wants employees who arrive brimming over with motivation—who want to do a great job and to succeed and in time advance. I now know thousands of such young people. And to add to their value, if you give them a chance and treat them well, they’ll be among the most loyal people you ever hired.
Seven years ago, along with two business-executive friends, I co-founded TheDream.US, a scholarship program for “The Dreamers,” the young people, then 800,000 strong, who had received DACA status from the United States government. DACA, created by President Barack Obama in 2012, offered certain young immigrants DREAMers a renewable status that provide two years’ freedom from deportation and a temporary work permit and social security number. They had to be students in US high schools, graduates of those high schools or GED holders; they could not have been convicted of a felony or three significant misdemeanors (one DWI and you’re out); and they had to have arrived in the US before June, 2007.
These were significant benefits for young people from immigrant families who had come to the US as young children (the average of our 6,000 scholars came as a four-year-old). It gave these Dreamers, as they became known, the chance to work and to drive a car. It was a bargain for the US, which gained 800,000 workers at no cost in federal benefits (in fact the applicants paid $495 to apply and to renew their DACA status every two years).
Why do I think these young people would make great workers for you? After a lifetime of involvement in scholarship programs for a variety of young people: these are the most motivated students I have ever met. They’ll make unbelievable workers and, eventually, managers.
I admire every student from a low-income family in the US who enrolls in college. Everyone knows that all low-income students—not just Dreamers—face an array of obstacles to success and ultimately to graduation. Everything about college is expensive and navigating college life isn’t simple. Everything from a car that breaks down to a family that gets evicted from its apartment creates traps for the low-income student.
Now consider the Dreamer! By definition, the undocumented family has a very low income (the average of our students’ families: $29,000 a year). But the sources of aid that help low-income families, above all Pell grants and loans, aren’t available to Dreamers. Everyone complains, justly, about the debts college students incur. But try going to college if you can’t borrow a cent from anyone. Undocumented status complicates everything, and many students’ families live under constant fear of a parent’s deportation.
In the face of all these obstacles, the Dreamers just do not quit. On a trip to Chicago, I met two students. One was the second oldest in her family. Her sister told her: “You’re a good student. We’ll pool our earnings and send you to college. Then we’ll do the same thing for me.”
But college is expensive and the earnings were small. She could only pay for one course a semester. She graduated from her two-year college—in 11 years (she became one of our scholarship recipients and now has a BA. Her sister became a student too).
The second student was attending Arrupe College, a wonderful two-year institution founded by Loyola University of Chicago. She stood out as students introduced themselves—she lived in Wisconsin (a state that forces undocumented students to pay out of state tuition). And she commuted two hours each way, four days a week to go to college. She graduated.
Our graduates have demonstrated simply unbelievable motivation in the face of constant confusion and disappointment. Congress always seems to hold out the possibility of a Dream Act that would give them a path to citizenship—and then snatches it away. President Trump rescinded DACA after giving Congress 6 months to enact legislation; his rescission was challenged in court. The case made its way to the Supreme Court which—miraculously—agreed that the President’s managers hadn’t conducted the repeal in proper legal form.
The decision gave DACA life—crucial to the Dreamers, because without DACA, they would not have a legal right to work. But almost immediately, the President announced he’d repeal DACA again.
At every twist in this path, from President Trump’s election to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Dreamer students were deep in uncertainty. Somehow, they kept on. Graduation brought a flood of summa cum laudes and valedictorians. The new graduates entered the workforce. Today there are an estimated 14,000 DACA teachers and 27,000 healthcare workers.
Originally posted on Forbes