It was difficult for Andrea Chavez, 19, to believe any Republican cared about her struggles after President Donald Trump was elected.
His hardline stance on immigration meant an uncertain future for Chavez, a Mexican immigrant who has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, a program which is on the verge of ending and faces a federal court battle. Chavez has lived in the United States since she was 3 years old.
But there are some advocating for a solution to replace DACA and who want to give her an opportunity, like Michael Spalding, a Nashville doctor and philanthropist.
“I was really surprised that he was going to help us,” Chavez said of Spalding, who is a Republican and founder of Equal Chance for Education. “He was really welcoming, listened to us and asked about what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go to college.”
Although the issue of immigration is an increasingly polarizing political issue, support for the DACA program, which ensures young immigrants who entered the country illegally as children can access college and a job, remains high among both Democrats and Republicans.
Polls show support for DACA
That includes in Tennessee, according to Middle Tennessee State University poll released in April. Tennesseans also widely support in-state tuition for these students, according to a Vanderbilt poll last year.
The Trump administration announced the end of DACA last year, but a court ruling has extended the program. Young immigrants here illegally can begin to apply for the program starting Monday.
The U.S. Supreme Court could take up the case, possibly as soon as October, according to Mark Delich, FWD.US congressional affairs director. FWD.US is a lobbying group that seeks to mobilize the tech community around certain policy issues, including DACA.
In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam has continually expressed support in providing in-state tuition for young adults who live in the U.S. illegally and were brought to the United States at a young age. But in-state tuition has only come close to passage once, in 2015.
A measure this year that would have granted in-state tuition to students such as Chavez died in committee.
The leading GOP candidates for governor in the Aug. 2 primary all oppose in-state tuition for these students. The two leading Democrats in the race support the effort.
Scholarships for DACA students in Tennessee
Meanwhile, Spalding’s organization is stepping up to provide DACA recipients resources they need to attend college.
Equal Chance for Education helps Tennessee DACA students head to college through scholarships, given the state doesn’t grant students like Chavez in-state tuition and the cost is high and often unaffordable.
It’s become the second largest scholarship fund nationally for DACA students.
The organization afforded her the ability to attend Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn., Chavez said, where she is a sophomore.
Spalding’s organization has provided scholarships to 218 students statewide. Their average GPA is 3.43, he said, and 11 of the 18 that have graduated from the scholarship program graduated with honors.
“We are a country of immigrants and that is what makes America great,” he said. “This is not a political thing, this is a moral thing. This isn’t about being Republican or Democrat, it is about people’s lives.”
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Any timeline for a fix to DACA remains unclear, given action is required by Congress.
And Spalding has approached Tennessee lawmakers to lobby for a fix to DACA. He said it is of the utmost importance that DACA students can continue to live and work in the United States.
“I’ve tried. I’ve met with both senators,” he said. “I’m having trouble finding any common ground with the Republican Party right now.”
Many of the students the organization serves are training to enter fields such as medicine, law or education.
Chavez said she wants to become an immigration attorney. Her sister Alma is also benefitting from the program. If DACA goes away, Chavez said, it will end millions of dreams.
“We want make our dreams happen, just like anyone else,” she said.
Reach Jason Gonzales at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByJasonGonzales.