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It was the briefest of celebrations.

In June, the Supreme Court blocked the White House’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This was long-awaited good news for the 3.6 million undocumented young people currently living in the U.S, myself included.

For now, we can be free of the constant fear of deportation and carry on with work, school and social distancing.

Or can we? While the immediate fears have been postponed, this is far from a permanent solution. For undocumented students who are trying to complete their studies — during a pandemic, no less — many of the challenges brought on by their citizenship status are more present than ever.

DACA is far from perfect, but for those of us who are eligible, it has been a lifeline.

So-called “DACA-mented” students can be employed, get driver’s licenses and not be at risk of deportation. They have access to a limited pool of private scholarships, and in 18 states, they qualify for in-state tuition.

It is by no means an easy path to college graduation, but it is far better than what their Dreamer peers face without DACA protections. Unfortunately, only a small portion of Dreamers are protected under DACA.

Darwin Velasquez in front of a tree representing high school seniors he works with in San Francisco. Credit: College Track

As the National Dreamer Coordinator of College Track and a DACA recipient myself, I talk with educators every day about how we can advocate for undocumented students. No one has all the answers, but there are actions we can and should take now before the situation changes again.

Just a few weeks after the Supreme Court decision, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirmed it would still not be accepting any new DACA applications and would be reducing DACA work authorizations from two years to one.

With that one communication, more than 200,000 potential DACA applicants’ dreams were put on hold. For Dreamer students both with and without DACA protections trying to hold down jobs to finance their education, this news was devastating.

Current DACA recipients must be diligent about renewals. I usually recommend renewing DACA one year in advance of its expiration whenever possible; however, in late August the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it would accept renewals only four months prior to expiration.

This means DACA recipients must be vigilant about knowing their renewal dates, saving the $495 fee and not missing any deadlines.

We’ll also have to be clear-eyed about the financial realities of being undocumented and access the resources that are available.

The pandemic has disproportionately hit the communities we serve, particularly our undocumented students. Undocumented students without Social Security numbers are unable to access government dollars, not even via stimulus checks.

Even worse, federal CARES resources were denied to undocumented students, many of whom had lost on-campus jobs, and so the funds they were relying on to cover their tuition disappeared.

Related: Supreme Court’s DACA decision is a victory for education

As we wait for more news on DACA, students should continue to apply to local, regional and national scholarships to maximize every dollar available for undocumented students.

We don’t need to wait for another Supreme Court decision or election to help Dreamers. There are steps any of us working in education can take to advocate for Dreamers without the need for sweeping national policy changes, although they would be welcome.

In the short term, teachers and counselors should have heightened awareness of the emotional stress undocumented students face every day and offer to connect them with counseling or free immigration legal clinics. Once schools are reopened, public declarations that they are safe environments for Dreamers can ease emotional distress during the school day.

High schools can educate themselves on the challenges facing Dreamers and the resources that are available to them through their schools and states and communicate information to students and families.

For example, many schools offer presentations about planning for college. Let’s make sure those presentations include resources for undocumented students and offer these resources  in multiple languages. High schools can add resources to their websites about how to pay for college as an undocumented student. (You may be surprised how many school websites have none.)

Even better, educators must be willing to write a reference or review a college essay for students who may not have English as their first language. That support and encouragement can be life-changing.

In the absence of a permanent solution, let’s focus on what we can do for Dreamers today, especially when they are trying to complete their studies, stay safe and support themselves during a global pandemic.  

At the college level, I’d like to see every university host a resource center for undocumented students. Universities with law schools might establish programs to pair undocumented undergraduates with law students for low-cost or free advising.

The generous funders who contribute to DACA scholarship programs could open those up to non-DACA recipients as well, expanding the pool of financial resources for all.

In the absence of a permanent solution, let’s focus on what we can do for Dreamers today, especially when they are trying to complete their studies, stay safe and support themselves during a global pandemic.

Together, we can and must create permanence out of the transitory, for the benefit of all undocumented students. And that will be something to celebrate.

Darwin Velasquez is the National Dreamer Coordinator for College Track, a comprehensive college completion program that equips students facing systemic barriers to earn a bachelor’s degree in pursuit of a life of opportunity, choice and power. He came to the United States from El Salvador at age 12 and is the first in his family to earn a college degree.

This story about DACA recipients was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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