For Enrique Ramirez, the last week of August was supposed to mark a new beginning.
He moved from his brick Quincy House dorm on Harvard University’s campus into an apartment he shares with his sister not far from the University of Texas Law School, where he plans to study immigration law. He bought his books and attended orientation.
And then Hurricane Harvey arrived. Ramirez and his family watched from his apartment living room in Austin as the streets of his hometown in Dickinson, Texas, overflowed with dirty brown water.
“We were watching the Weather Channel, and we recognized my cousins and family getting rescued,” he said.
As he worried about whether his family’s home would be washed away by the floods, another concern grew from news in Washington: Could he be deported?
For students like Ramirez, so-called Dreamers, with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, who grew up in the United States, the beginning of this school year has been marked by concerns they could lose their protected status and ability to work.
On Friday the White House said an announcement will be made on Tuesday about whether the administration will end DACA, the Obama-era immigration policy that lets young people brought to the United States illegally by their parents before 2012 apply for a renewable two-year permit, allowing them to come out of the shadows to obtain work permits, attend college and defer action on deportation.
“It’s been a very rough week for my family,” Ramirez said. “It’s pretty scary. Without DACA, I could be at the risk of deportation at all times. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been going through law school orientation.”
On the other side of campus, Vanessa Rodriguez, a 19-year-old at the University of Texas, said DACA was the first thing she thought about on the first day of her sophomore year.
“With everything going on about DACA in the air, I woke up early and called a friend,” she said. She hadn’t yet bought books on John Locke, James Madison and the Federalist Papers for her constitutional principles class.
“When there is something so large that you can’t control, it’s almost like you have to pay attention more to that compared to something small like ordering books for class,” she said. “What does this mean for me continuing my studies at UT?”
Since then-President Barack Obama announced the DACA program in 2012, roughly 800,000 young people have registered to receive DACA status. Most of those recipients go on to graduate from high school and college, but now those opportunities seem in question.
Texas allows students living in the state without legal residency to receive in-state tuition at public universities and colleges, something Ramirez and Rodriguez benefit from.
According to the National Immigration Law Center, at least 20 states and jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, have tuition equality laws or policies, allowing students to receive in-state tuition, regardless of immigration status. But if President Donald Trump ends DACA or decides not to defend it in court, those students will not be able to lawfully work and pay for tuition and living expenses.
The financial uncertainty surrounding their education concerns Ramirez and Rodriguez.
“The loans I took out for law school are temporary and issued through DACA,” Ramirez said. “I’m also afraid of not being able to get an internship.”
She saved enough money from working to afford an apartment she shares. Her freshman year, she slept on the couch at a family friend’s home 40 minutes from campus in order to save.
“I have an apartment contract, and every month I have to pay, and so now for me, having this question about DACA over my head, it makes me worry. I’ve worked ever since I had DACA. I got it my senior in high school, since 2015, and it’s been work nonstop, and I really valued that I could work and I could do all these things, so with this uncertainty, it’s put me in this position where I have to be thinking about all these plan A, B, C, Ds.”
Ramirez said that despite the possibility that Trump will end DACA, he hopes what the president said during his first month in office holds true.
“President Trump said he has a soft spot for Dreamers,” Ramirez said.