LAUREL – In 2009, her senior year of high school, Pratishtha Khanna’s mother dragged her to the advising office of Howard Community College in Columbia, determined to get her daughter enrolled in college. “My mother was the one to drag me out of my misery,” Khanna said. Khanna, then 18, of Laurel, said it […]
LAUREL – In 2009, her senior year of high school, Pratishtha Khanna’s mother dragged her to the advising office of Howard Community College in Columbia, determined to get her daughter enrolled in college.
“My mother was the one to drag me out of my misery,” Khanna said.
Khanna, then 18, of Laurel, said it was difficult to apply to college applications online as an undocumented immigrant without a social security number.
Khanna was eventually admitted to the college in on a scholars program, but the biggest opportunity for Khanna would come two years later.
In June 2012, President Barack Obama issued the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program as an executive order. The program would allow some undocumented youth to have temporary lawful status for two years and work authorization in the United States.
When Khanna heard about the program, she said she did all she could to learn about it. She called the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services whenever she had questions.
She called so many times, they began recognizing her name.
“Finally something was happening in my favor, in my family’s favor,” Khanna said, referring to the DACA program.
In August 2012, Khanna’s DACA application was approved.
“I didn’t know what it meant to be documented,” she said. “I didn’t know how a social security number would change my life.”
Since then, Khanna has taken advantage of the benefits of DACA.
She finished her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in May. While in college, she worked two on-campus jobs and registered at UMBC with her new social security number. She has a driver’s permit and plans to get her full license by the end of the summer.
Most recently, the White House recognized her as one of 10 exemplary undocumented youth on June 17. These “Champions of Change” serve as success stories and role models in their academic and professional spheres, according to a White House statement.
On June 5, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services would begin to accept applications for DACA renewals.
Khanna, now 23, will be one of the first original DACA recipients to renew her application.
Michael Olivas, director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at the University of Houston Law Center, said DACA is a transformative program.
“It’s an amazing and beneficial program that substantially changes the statuses and lives of people,” Olivas said.
There have been a total of 638,054 DACA recipients since the program’s start in 2012, according to June 2014 data from USCIS. About 96 percent of those requests were approved.
In Maryland, there have been a total of 7,797 approved DACA requests since 2012, according to the USCIS data.
To be eligible for DACA, applicants must have came to the U.S. before turning 16 years old, be 31 years old or younger as of June 15, 2012, be able to prove their continuous residency, be currently in school, have graduated from high school, obtained a GED or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces. Applicants cannot have been convicted of a felony offense or significant misdemeanor.
Olivas said the program has substantial implications for the future of the recipients. “When comprehensive immigration reform happens, [DACA recipients] will be put at the front of the line for citizenship,” Olivas said.
Still, Khanna, who hopes to attend medical school in fall 2017 with a dream of working in international medicine, said she still faces her share of uncertainties.
“It’s not easy to pursue this dream,” Khanna said. “There are examples of Dreamers going to law and medical school but there are so many what ifs, what ifs, what ifs.”
Medical school is expensive, and Khanna said she is working to help support her aging parents – her father will turn 60, and her mother, 50– and help pay for her younger brother’s college tuition.
She also said she worries about being eligible for loans to pay for medical school with her temporary status.
“Would banks give me the loan that I need to go to medical school?” Khanna asked. “Would I be able to practice with a temporary work license?”
Khanna said she will still pursue her dreams, but she needs to be flexible. She’ll start work as an emergency room medical scribe soon. She is currently enrolled in a two-month Certified Nursing Assistant program at Howard Community College.
“There weren’t so many job opportunities for biology majors,” Khanna said. “This way I can build my personal clinical experience, make my resume competitive for medical school.”
Not all DACA-eligible youth apply for DACA, but they should, Olivas said.
“I don’t know why more people haven’t come forward,” Olivas said. “In the future, it’ll be harder to prove their residence without proper documentation.”
Barriers to applying for DACA status include financial reasons, with an application fee of $465, and fear of outing parents or other family members, Olivas said.
Khanna said she feels the DACA program, while positive, is not doing enough.
“It’s a band-aid on a gaping wound,” she said.