A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

DACA Provides a Fairer Shot

Central to the aspirational promise of America is the bedrock belief that we are all equal—regardless of the circumstances of our birth—and our flourishing takes place on a level playing field. That is why we have joined more than 160 leaders of American colleges and universities in filing an amicus brief in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly known as DACA, with the U.S. Supreme Court.

By extending certain protections to undocumented students raised in the United States after immigrating as children, DACA exemplifies the foundational promise of our country. Our brief opposes several consolidated cases before the court that threaten to eliminate DACA, a program that is vital to the wide variety of colleges that are our cosignatories, from state schools to religiously affiliated ones, community colleges to private liberal arts schools, campuses both urban and rural. As leaders of art and design colleges, where creativity is a driving force, we foresee a particular threat to the cessation of DACA: a curtailment of our country’s imagination and a foreclosure on our national dream.

Potently, DACA participants are known as Dreamers. While a full meritocracy has not yet been realized, the dream of it has continually compelled us towards justice, and like civil rights, suffrage and marriage equality, DACA is one of our better angels.

By providing access to a social security number and photo ID, DACA allows Dreamers to travel by airplane, apply for federal student aid, pursue employment on- and off-campus, attend state-run schools and pay in-state tuition rates. Extending the permissions that Dreamers’ native-born and documented peers may take for granted is not a handout; it is a fairer shot. Though often still handicapped by feelings of isolation and fears of deportation, Dreamers’ excellence in secondary school is given purpose and competition for college admittance is given potential through DACA. Ninety-three percent of enrolled Dreamers reported that they would not be in college without DACA[1], and Dreamers enroll at nearly equal rates as those in the same age group[2].

Perhaps the most persuasive statistic that underscores how DACA helps Dreamers fulfill the American Dream, however, is that 91 percent of all DACA alums over 25-years-old are employed[3], which means they are realizing the opportunities their parents brought them to this country to pursue. Average unemployment rates go down—more than 2 percent—and annual income goes up—nearly $24,000—for those with a bachelor’s degree in addition to a high school diploma[4]. Considering that 81 percent of Dreamers identify as first-generation college students, meaning they are from the first generation in their families to ever attend college[5], it is unconscionable to cut off one of the surest paths to social mobility for these nearly 700,000 students. Without DACA, the cost of education will be more expensive, work-study opportunities will disappear and many will not find a nearby, affordable college to enroll in at all.

The loss for Dreamers would also be a loss for our colleges. We hear constantly that twenty-first century employers need people trained in creative problem solving, which is exactly what our students learn. Creativity demands the ability to see a problem from many different viewpoints. That diversity of perspective can best be achieved by a diverse population, making Dreamers an indispensable part of our classrooms. The wide spectrum of ideators on campuses not only prepares all students for the diverse, international workforce they will enter, it also increases empathy and compassion among everyone, which is a crucial capacity for artists and designers.

All artists and designers, documented or not, are already citizens in a global sense. As communicators in a variety of media, they understand the interconnectedness of all people, and acknowledge the potential influence of their work. They shape our built environment, interpret the images that make up our world and enrich our aesthetic lives. Their greatest vision, however, is imagining the world we cannot yet see. Artists and designers envision the shape of tomorrow, interrogate our blind spots and conjure images that reveal our future selves. This visionary work can be harrowing, and though often originated at the margins of culture, it is a task central to the future of our shared society.

To find the truly audacious, innovative and revelatory solutions to our biggest problems—such as environmental degradation, cross-cultural misunderstanding or political polarization—while preserving the civil liberties we value, we’ll need the expansive imagination artists and designers provide. As chief executives at four of America’s leading art and design colleges, we witness firsthand the development of this all-important skill. Moreover, three of us can trace an immigrant history in America only a few generations old; one of us is an immigrant to this country, and two of us are first-generation college students. Rescinding DACA would penalize a hard-working and talented group of emergent artists and designers, many of whom know no other home than the United States. The loss of the Dreamers’ contributions to art and design; architecture and preservation; and art history, education, therapy, administration and many other related fields would be incalculable. The diminishment of the American Dream from their exclusion would be immeasurable.

Elissa Tenny
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Samuel Hoi
Maryland Institute College of Art

Rachel Schreiber
Executive Dean
The New School’s Parsons School of Design

Rosanne Somerson
Rhode Island School of Design


[1] Tom K. Wong et al., DACA Recipients’ Livelihoods, Families, and Sense of Security Are at Stake This November, CTR. FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS (Sept. 19, 2019), https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/news/2019/09/19/474636/daca-recipients-livelihoods-families-sense-security-stake-november/ (This study included 1,105 DACA recipients in 40 states as well as the District of Columbia.).

[2] Jie Zong et al., A Profile of Current DACA Recipients by Education, Industry, and Occupation, MIGRATION POLICY INST. (Nov. 2017), https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/profilecurrent-daca-recipients-education-industry-and-occupation (follow “DACA Recipients by State” hyperlink to excel document) (The data provided comes from a Migration Policy Institute analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the pooled 2010- 2014 American Community Surveys and 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation, with legal status assignments by James Bachmeier of Temple University and Jennifer Van Hook of the Pennsylvania State University, Population Research Institute.).

[3] Wong et al., supra note 1.

[4] Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2018/data-on-display/education-pays.htm

[5] TheDream.US, 2018-2019 Scholar Survey (Aug. 2019). TheDream.US is a national college access program that awards scholarships to Dreamers to attend college and university. They partner with over 70 colleges and universities nationwide. Ninety-three percent of their 3,000 scholars are DACA recipients, accordingly, data regarding these scholars is highly informative regarding DACA’s higher educational benefits. In August 2019, TheDream.US conducted an updated survey of its scholars and received over 1,800 responses.