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This Houston Student Had A College Plan, Then Harvey Came, And Trump Rescinded DACA

In the Houston Independent School District alone, Superintendent Richard Carranza estimates about one in ten students are Dreamers — about 20,000 students

Maritza, a senior at Furr High School in Houston, works in her college prep class, where students research and apply to universities. Harvey flooded her home and delayed the start of school, causing her to miss a DACA application deadline.

During lunch at school, Maritza skips hanging out with friends in the cafeteria. Instead, she heads to her history teacher’s room at Furr High School, where they pore over a scholarship essay.

In 250 words, she explains how her dance troupe has taught her leadership skills. If it’s the winning entry, she could earn $1,000 for college.

A lot is riding on scholarships like these for Maritza, whom News 88.7 is identifying by her middle name to protect her identity.

Just a few months ago, she had a different college plan: Apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA; earn a temporary work permit and gain some protection from deportation.

That way, she figured, she could work to help pay for college. And she could pursue her dream career in journalism after graduation. So, over months, her family saved up about a thousand dollars to pay for an attorney and file the paperwork for DACA. All she needed were school records to finish her application.

But then Hurricane Harvey came, flooded her family’s home in East Houston and shut down school for two weeks.

MORE: Laura Isensee On How DACA’s End Is Affecting Houston Students

While Maritza and her mom took a break from cleaning, they watched U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announce on live T.V. that the Trump Administration was ending DACA and cutting off new applications for immigrants like Martiza.

“I wanted to cry but I didn’t,” said Maritza. “I felt like bad thing after bad thing after bad thing.”

She turned to her mom, who told her not to give up. 

“She said you know things happen for a reason and just because he took it out doesn’t mean that you can’t go to school, like, we will figure it out. Like we always do,” she recounted.

Like Maritza, thousands of young people in Houston are facing an uncertain future because of the Trump Administration’s directive on DACA. In the Houston Independent School District alone, Superintendent Richard Carranza estimates about one in 10 students are Dreamers — about 20,000 students.

“We cannot lose you and we will not abandon you,” Carranza said in a message to the district. “I believe in finding a solution where these Dreamers can keep reaching their dreams in the United States of America, a nation of immigrants.”

Superintendent Richard Carranza said that the decision to end DACA affects about 10 percent of the students in the state's largest school district.
Houston ISD Superintendent Richard Carranza said that the decision to end DACA affects about 10 percent of the students in the state’s largest school district.

Sessions tried to justify the new, tougher stance when he made the announcement in early September. “There’s nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws,” he said.

But while other parts of the country heard rumors this change was coming and rushed last-minute applications out the door, many immigrant families couldn’t do that in Houston, according to Jill Campbell, an attorney with the social services nonprofit BakerRipley.

“We, unfortunately, were under water and couldn’t do that,” Campbell said.

But, Dreamers like Maritza still have options that are in their control, she said. Things like:

  • Visit with an attorney, to see if there are other ways to legalize their status;
  • Continue with school and pursue higher education if that’s their dream;
  • and take care of their mental health by connecting with others who face a similar situation.

“Right now, there is that feeling of a high level of chaos and anxiety and uncertainty about what the future holds both for Dreamers and for the immigrant community,” Campbell said.  “And I think we can empower people and try to assure them and let them know what they can do.”

And the Houston school district is taking other action to support Dreamers, including a summit for them and their families in December.

Maritza is still pursuing higher education and is trying to figure out her new college plan.
Maritza is still pursuing higher education and is trying to figure out her new college plan.

For Maritza, life is slowly returning to normal after Harvey. She and her little brother are back in their school routine.

But their house still shows Harvey’s impact. Their living room used to have a TV and several sofas. Now it’s almost empty except for a quinceañera portrait of Maritza in a red ball gown hanging on the wall. She said that they threw out a lot of moldy furniture and soggy carpet. Thinking about it still makes Maritza emotional.

I was just so frustrated. Seeing my house like that — It was really hard. My mom, she tried to be really positive, but I know she wanted to give us more,” she said.

But as difficult as Harvey was, Maritza said that the uncertainty over immigration is even worse.

“It’s just like there’s a big weight on top of me right now because of that,” she said.

Maritza’s a good student. In fact, she’s near the top of her class. And Texas does allow undocumented students to enroll in public colleges and pay in-state tuition. But without DACA, she has fewer ways to pay for college. And even if she earns her degree, there’s no guarantee she can get a job down the road.

But she’s pushing ahead on college. She’s applying to more scholarships and keeping community college as a backup.

“I could still do something, be something with my life, regardless of where I’m at,” she said.

The Trump Administration has given Congress has six months to replace DACA. But Maritza’s not counting on it. She realizes that like Hurricane Harvey, the situation — in some ways — is out of her control. All she can do is try to stay positive.

“Si sigues pensando negativo, cosas negativas te van a pasar,” she said, recounting her mom’s mantra in Spanish. “If you keep thinking negative, negative things are going to happen to you.”

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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