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Five Former Education Secretaries to Congress: Save the 'Dreamers'

Five former education secretaries, who served both Democratic and Republican presidents, are calling on congressional leaders to come up with a legislative fix to save hundreds of thousands of so-called "Dreamers" from potential deportation, now that President Donald Trump has rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The letter sent to congressional leaders Wednesday was signed by the last five education secretaries, including both of President Barack Obama's secretaries—Arne Duncan and John King—and both of President George W. Bush's secretaries—Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings. Also signing was President Bill Clinton's only education secretary, Richard Riley.

DACA, which grew out of an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2012, gave about 800,000 people who came to the U.S. as children the chance to get a two-year work permit and remain in the country legally. The program has certain eligibility requirements. Enrollees must have been 16 or younger when they arrived in the U.S. and must have lived here since 2007. 

Trump put the kibosh on the program earlier this week, although he said it would undergo a six-month phase out. He called on Congress to come up with a new plan. For more than a decade, lawmakers have tried, and failed, to pass the so-called DREAM Act, which would give permanent legal status to adults who came to the country as children.

The current head of the U.S. Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, has been silent on the president's DACA decision.

But dozens of education organizations, from Chiefs for Change to the American Federation of Teachers, have said that getting rid of the protection could have big ramifications for K-12 schools. Advocates fear that undocumented students may not show up and that teachers participating in DACA could be deported. The Migrant Policy Institute estimates that 250,000 schoolchildren are eligible for DACA.

For their part, the former education secretaries noted that 45 percent of DACA recipients currently are in school and that most of them are pursuing a bachelor's degree or higher. And they noted that 91 percent of DACA recipients are working, including at top companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Walmart. The secretaries warned of serious economic disruption if DACA ends.

"For most of these young people, the United States is the only home they've ever known," the secretaries wrote. "They grew up here, went to school here—studied and learned in our public schools, made friends and built lives here. They are American in every way but their paperwork."

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