Blog of Rights

For Many DACA Students, Access to Higher Education Remains A Challenge

By Needa Virani, Activist at 3:56pm

A Georgia student's story highlights the need for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million people who have become part of the American fabric, and aspire to become citizens, but currently have no way to attain legal status.

I came to the U.S. from India at the age of 7. Living in the U.S. has provided me with a life that I would have never been able to have back in India. The U.S. has always been and will always be my home. I have received a great high school education, which helped me graduate from Georgia Tech, a college that has the second-best program in my chosen field, biomedical engineering.

In college, I struggled because of my immigration status. Not only was I ineligible for financial aid, but I also had to pay out-of-state tuition, even though I've lived in Georgia for over 12 years. As is common with DREAMers, my life plans have been subject to politicians' whims; luckily, I got into Georgia Tech exactly one year before the Georgia Board of Regents enacted a policy that banned undocumented students from Georgia's top five colleges and universities.

I recently graduated from Georgia Tech (May 2013) with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering. Until my senior year, I was unable to take full advantage of the college experience – programs such as internships, co-ops, study abroad, and research abroad programs were off limits for me because of my immigration status.

Still, in spite of these hurdles, I found my calling in research. I started working as an undergraduate researcher at the beginning of my sophomore year and continued until graduation. I have worked in multiple laboratories conducting cutting-edge research, such as developing novel, atherosclerosis imaging techniques and developing a biodegradable pediatric stent.

After graduation, I planned on going to graduate school so that I could further explore my love of research and improve my job prospects. I was especially hopeful that I could do so after I was granted a work permit and permission to live in the country under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. And I was even offered a fully-funded research position in the Bioengineering Ph.D program at Georgia Tech. But unfortunately, I soon learned that the Regents do not consider DACA students to be in the country lawfully. And so I had to give up my position.

Think about that. The U.S. government, through its DACA program, has granted me permission to live in the country and work authorization, but a public university in Georgia won't recognize it. Georgia Tech's bioengineering program is the second best Ph.D program in the country, and I got in. DACA was created to provide students with the opportunity to pursue an education and contribute to the U.S. economy. The Regents' ban undermines these important goals, making the promises of DACA a mirage.

I know that I have real contributions to make to my field. I know that I will help develop the new, path-breaking technologies that will save countless lives. With DACA, the U.S. government has recognized my value to my country. Georgia needs to get with the program.

This post is part of a series on the first anniversary of the Obama Administration announcing DACA.

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