Jay came to the U.S. when he was in the third grade. His youngest sister, who was four years old, was dying of malnutrition when the family crossed the border. Jay learned English quickly in elementary school and became an honor roll student. However, he struggled to overcome some of the emotional damage done from the domestic violence relationship between his parents that his mother finally escaped. Jay also spent several of his high school years worried that his immigration status would prohibit him from pursuing his dream of becoming an attorney or maybe a family therapist. He kept persevering in school despite these obstacles. When Jay became eligible for DACA, he felt that his prayers had been answered and doors that were previously closed would now be open for him. Then Jay became the first in the family to graduate high school! He was so very proud of himself, and his family was so excited for him.
When deciding where to go to college, Jay determined that St. Louis Community College would be the best option for him. His entire senior year, Jay talked about the A+ scholarship and how he had triple-checked to make sure he qualified. He knew that DACA students do not qualify for federal aid and he needed to continue working to help his single mother and three younger siblings with family expenses, so the A+ scholarship would allow him to attend college. He enrolled last year and began attending classes at Meramec but was later told that he no longer qualified for the A+ scholarship due to being a DACA student. Forced to drop out, Jay became disheartened and depressed. Last fall, he slowly began to give up on some of his dreams, wondering if he was destined to be trapped in a low-paid landscaping or dishwashing job, as his father before him, for the rest of his life. He has struggled this year to regain some hope as well as to save enough money to try to begin attending some classes again while also covering other expenses like eyeglasses and part of the family’s rent.
Knowing that he has access to the A+ scholarship would make all the difference in Jay’s future. It would give him, like other Missouri students, access to higher education and a pathway out of poverty. Jay is not alone. Southside knows other DACA kids who grew up in Missouri, claim it as their home, and want to give back to their communities as professionals, but they are being blocked in some way from accessing higher education at every turn. Southside’s after-school youth program works with kids to help them maintain their grades and see the benefits to staying in school rather than become high school dropouts. But when pursuing an education begins to look so much more difficult than selling drugs on the streets, staying in school can become an uphill battle. Governor Nixon’s veto of SB224 needs to be sustained to allow all Missouri kids to have their hard work acknowledged, not punished.