How DACA Helped Me Experience College Life Freely

By Staisy Ngare

 The writer, Staisy Ngare, with members of Students of Caribbean Ancestry during her freshman year of college.

The writer, Staisy Ngare, with members of Students of Caribbean Ancestry during her freshman year of college.

High school was almost over. With my 3.7 GPA and extracurricular activities that included the tennis team, the swim team, National Honor Society and advanced-placement classes, I knew college admissions would be a breeze.

My applications to universities in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and beyond were almost enjoyable because of how confident I was in my strong performance in high school. I would get into all of them, I thought. Not only that, I would qualify for plenty of scholarships because of my performance, and the honors classes I took in high school had already qualified me for college credit.

It would be a breeze. Or so I thought.

Being an undocumented immigrant, a Black one at that, comes with a particular set of difficulties that are so often well-masked. You come to America at a young age having a sense of identity from another country or continent, being bilingual, maybe even trilingual. You are in the midst of so much opportunity that you naturally excel at academics because of your hunger for personal success and the need to show your parents that their sacrifices were worth it. Your parents are out here working double and triple shifts, who are you to not get straight-As? So you study some more. That was how I approached high school. I felt accomplished at the end of my four years. I celebrated with prom. I knew I had made my parents proud when they offered to pay for a custom-made prom dress for me.

My plans for higher education? I would spend four years of undergrad pursuing a liberal arts degree and the next three years in law school to study criminal and immigration law. Everything was planned out, except for the most important thing when it comes to college applications: money.

On average, college tuition and fees amount to almost $10,000 for state residents at public colleges and universities. Going into the college application process, I was met with the difficulty of applying to college with the immigration status of non-citizen. Citizens qualify for federal grants, scholarships and other loans that help them afford college. But for non-citizens like me, attending college would mean having to somehow afford a college education without any type of government assistance.

I still thought I would be covered with my scholarship money. But I was wrong. Most of the scholarship money I was awarded was useless because of my status. My next step for college aid was FAFSA, of course. Now what prompted me to ask the federal government for money for higher education? My desperation. I was obviously disqualified from any aid.

I had hit a huge wall. How could all of my work — late nights doing AP assignments, early mornings volunteering, participating in any sport with my non-athletic self  — how could all of this end in a no? I was not going to take no for an answer. Given my status, my mother advised me to apply as an international student. This was how I entered the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

I was elated to enter a four-year university with my own efforts. Given my status, however, I could not qualify for in-state tuition. International tuition as you can guess is a lot more expensive than in-state tuition: a difference of $18,000 at UMass Amherst when you factor in room and board.

Given all of this news, in November 2012, I was ecstatic to learn that I qualified for DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA is in no way or form some type of citizenship status, nor does it lead to a Green Card. Instead, it is a relief from deportation in which qualifiers are safe from removal and can get a work permit. Because of DACA, I was able to pay in-state tuition regardless of my status. This realization was a weight off my shoulders. DACA allowed me to focus more on what I wanted to do during my undergrad years at UMass.

I was able to enjoy college. I decided to major in African-American Studies when I took an elective on grassroots movements that filled me with passion. I took a leadership role in the African Students Association and danced with the Students of Caribbean Ancestry at the annual Spring Fest. I added Psychology to my studies and became a double major. My first year, I made the Dean’s List and was invited into the Commonwealth Honors College. I experienced college life freely, not worried about how my parents were going to be able to fund my education.

DACA allowed me to be just a college student. It allowed me to live my life. Now, DACA is in danger of repeal.

I was 4 years old when I entered the states, and although I had a sense of Kenya in me, most of my life has been lived in America. Most of my memories, friendships, schooling and experiences are in America. For DACA recipients, America is what we know. This country is our home.

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