DACA Students Receive $100K Scholarship

October 26, 2022

Los Angeles couple, Susan Purcell and Yair Landau have generously gifted $100,000 to students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) federal program who have completed at least one year in a PAU Doctoral program.

The $100,000 pledge will be awarded to three DACA students at PAU, each receiving roughly $10,000 per year for three years.

 

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The DACA program, created in 2012 by the then-Secretary of Homeland Security, provides young undocumented immigrants protection from deportation as well as a temporary work permit. After two years, the DACA recipient must reapply for the program in order to renew their protection and permit. DACA recipients are young people who arrived in the U.S. at a very young age under circumstances beyond their control. They identify as American and many of them speak only English.

“The DACA program represents the sentiment behind the Statue of Liberty—give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” says Yair, a media executive. “My ancestors were at Ellis Island and the current generation of DACA individuals deserves to receive the same level of access to education as previous immigrants. We fundamentally believe in the DACA program, and this is a way for us to show support in a way that directly benefits these students.”

Although the fear of deportation is temporarily mitigated, DACA recipients do not have social security numbers, they don’t have access to health insurance, and they don’t have a clear path to legal residence. Even though many of these families immigrated to the U.S. for their children to have access to quality education, DACA recipients are not able to apply for student loans, so many don’t have access to the funding needed to afford higher education.

“We are a country built on the backs of immigrants. Our sentiment is that DACA students are just as deserving of financial assistance as anyone else,” says Susan. “Anything that we can do to facilitate making a DACA recipient’s life more fully realized is crucial, and we believe that everyone should assume responsibility for that.”

Mental Health Needs Specific to Immigrant Families

Undocumented families in the U.S. live with the constant fear of being deported. This fear deters many of them to not seek health care when they are injured or ill. Also, many parents don’t allow their children to participate fully in school, such as partake in extra-curricular activities.

“In my world, I come across a lot of families who are not documented,” says Susan, an attorney representing children in foster care, some of whom are DACA recipients. “These families are living in the shadow of the full American experience. I’ve recently had a case where a family was separated at the border and the children were placed with someone who was abusive to them. And the father felt powerless because he was not documented.”

It is stressful for the undocumented parents, but also for the young DACA recipients. Even though they have protection from deportation for two years, their parents do not.

“Imagine the stress you would feel as a child,” says Susan. “To be worried that at any point in time their parents could be in a car accident and need medical care and then be deported. It’s very, very stressful and there is a huge need for mental health resources for this population.” 

The couple is inspired by the commitment of DACA students to higher education, particularly given the obstacles they have already had to overcome in their lives.

“We appreciate the passion these DACA students must have about mental health to not let the immense stressors in their lives stop them from earning an advanced degree,” says Susan. “They have overcome huge obstacles, and then propelled themselves forward into the mental health field, and we think that’s unbelievable and they should be applauded, and not in the shadows, but, publicly!”

Paying it Forward

Both Yair and Susan are first-generation Americans. Susan’s family emigrated from Ireland and Yair is originally from Israel. The couple met while attending college at the University of Chicago where they both received scholarship funding.

“Other generous people helped make education available for us, so we feel it’s appropriate to turn around and help in the same way that we were helped,” says Susan.

Lastly, Susan and Yair believe that the best professionals to offer mental health services to immigrant families are those who have lived this life, firsthand. 

“We think it’s wonderful that PAU offers higher education to such a diverse community of students, and this diversity in professionals in the mental health fields is a net positive for society,” says Yair.

“For us, undocumented families are not statistics, they are real people,” says Susan. “Having more trained professionals that have had the same personal experiences as their clients—to understand how difficult it is for these families to navigate life—is an extraordinary thing, and we are more than happy to give back to the community in this way.”