Lexington superintendent joins push for Congress to protect ‘Dreamers’

'This is like a slap in the face.' Dreamers and defenders rally in Lexington

Hundreds gathered in downtown Lexington Tuesday for a rally just hours after the Trump administration announced its efforts to end the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program.
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Hundreds gathered in downtown Lexington Tuesday for a rally just hours after the Trump administration announced its efforts to end the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program.

Fayette County’s Manny Caulk was one of 55 superintendents and chief executives of K-12 public school systems nationwide who sent a letter to Congress on Tuesday calling on the House and Senate to “take swift action to provide comprehensive, permanent stability” for the nearly 800,000 young people in the United States with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, a group commonly referred to as “Dreamers.”

Last month, President Donald Trump’s administration announced that it is rolling back DACA. Dreamers are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

“We are calling on Congress to find a bipartisan comprehensive, permanent and meaningful solution to provide relief to these youth,” Caulk told the Herald-Leader Wednesday.

“Every year, about 65,000 undocumented young people graduate from our nation’s high schools,” the letter Caulk and others sent to Congress said. “For most of them, life in the United States is all they know. Indeed, they are as American as our other students in every way, shape and form except on paper.”

“These young people worked hard, did what was expected of them and stayed out of trouble. But even the highest achievers among them often face significant hurdles to leading productive lives simply because their parents brought them here, beyond their control and outside the legal immigration process,” said the letter.

It said that only about two-thirds of America’s college students stay in school and complete their college degrees, but 95 percent of DACA students do. Business ownership among DACA recipients older than 25 is more than twice as high as the national average, and one quarter of them own their own homes.

Caulk and the other superintendents asking for protection for the young people on Tuesday are all alumni and current fellows of The Broad Center, based in Los Angeles, a Center news release said. The Broad Center is a nonprofit that develops and supports professionals working inside urban public school systems.

Created through executive order by then-President Barack Obama in 2012, DACA was aimed at children brought to the United States by their parents illegally, but who graduated from high school or sought to enter the military, and had no criminal record.

In September, within hours of the White House decision to roll back the DACA program, Lexington Dreamers and their supporters marched downtown with signs and calls for action.

Most schools don’t track DACA students because of federal privacy laws Immigration attorneys and advocates for the students said in September that the exact number of Dreamers in Lexington is not known.

Erin Howard, Bluegrass Community and Technical College’s Latino outreach director, said Wednesday that as of June, 6,164 DACA applications from Kentucky have been approved by the federal government, including 3,079 initial and 3,085 renewal applications. Kentucky has less than 1 percent of all DACA recipients nationwide, Howard said.

Federal immigration officials are no longer accepting initial or renewal requests for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. They are only adjudicating DACA renewal requests received by Oct. 5, from current DACA recipients whose benefits will expire between Sept. 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018.

Nationally, more than a third of Dreamers are between ages 16 and 20 and have been educated in public schools. In addition, about 20,000 professionals with DACA status are teaching in the nation’s K-12 schools, the news release said.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, is one of the leaders whom the group sent the letter to. McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer said McConnell’s office had not received the letter from the group by Wednesday morning. But Steurer provided a Sept. 14 statement that McConnell made after Trump called McConnell to discuss the need for strong security measures and the need to address DACA.

“As Congress debates the best ways to address illegal immigration through strong border security and interior enforcement, DACA should be part of those discussions,” McConnell said then.

Caulk is among several Kentucky educational leaders to publicly voice support for DACA. University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto talked last year to Kentucky’s congressional delegation about the importance of campus diversity, including DACA. Transylvania University President Seamus Carey also has said that the private university in Lexington supports DACA.

In a separate effort, Embrace Church and a group called Common Good in Lexington are having an event in support of the DREAM ACT from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday at the Embrace Epworth Campus, 1015 North Limestone.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears