Undocumented students and their families have long been faced with uncertainty. A convoluted maze of federal immigration laws can baffle even the savviest person, and those laws have a way of changing with the political cycles.

True to form, when the most recent political cycle swung a new direction, a policy shift brought a new period of uncertainty and young people throughout USD 443 face losing protections they currently enjoy.

On March 5, the federal government may rescind critical aspects of the Obama-era policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival – an addendum to the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act that provides legal status to certain undocumented people who entered the country as minors. No new applications have been permitted since Oct. 5, 2017, and while there is currently a short window for renewals, if a solution is not found it will mean work authorizations can expire and no new authorization will be issued.

Despite a Jan. 19 deadline, a DACA reform deal is yet to be reached, and time could very well be ticking away. A lack of concrete decisions leaves the future for students' families in vague limbo.

Fred Dierksen, USD 443 superintendent, is disappointed with the pace of negotiations.

"I am concerned about where this is going because Congress hasn't resolved the situation yet," Dierksen said.

Dierksen attended the Jan. 13 town hall meeting of First District Congressman Roger Marshall, and advocated for a solution on behalf of the district's immigrant population.

"I was just encouraging Dr. Marshall to take what he told us and try to come up with a resolution," he said. "I do have concerns that it will have an impact on our community."

The looming issue for students may be finding work after graduation. The October decision slams the door on people who may have been eligible for DACA protection but haven’t yet applied.

Immigrant students on the verge of graduation may find their attempts to gain legitimate employment hampered.

Michael Feltman, an immigration attorney in Cimarron, said rescinding DACA would tie the hands of people just beginning their push to be productive members of society. Those ties could lead some to make unwise choices.

“That’s the hard part - trying to make money and start a life after high school,” Feltman said. “They’re limited on their income ability. If employers are following the rules they’re going to ask them to fill out an I-9 to verify their employment eligibility.

"The dangerous part I worry about is if a kid is given bad advice to buy phony documents or otherwise simply lie about eligibility."

Feltman said that type of action quickly filters through the system and immigration authorities respond quickly.

“They’re hammering that stuff pretty hard right now,” he said.

Even if DACA protections are lifted, USD 443 will obviously continue educating students who may have lost legal status. In 1982, the US Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe that schools cannot use a student’s immigration status to deny access to a free public education.

While class will continue regardless of any DACA outcome, students still must cope with the anxieties of potential issues for their parents. Dierksen said the action could have broad consequences.

"What I'm worried about is that it will have an impact on families," he said, "and it will cause families to not be able to stay here. Whether that is a student who's about to graduate or that is a student's parents or a sibling involved - all that is a negative impact.”

According to the Kansas State Department of Education, USD 443 has an enrollment of 7,054 students. Hispanics represent 78.5 percent of students and 16 percent of those are officially classified as coming from migrant families - many of which fall under the DREAM Act and DACA policies.

The district may be in danger of losing some employees as well. Undocumented recipients of deferred action are eligible for social security cards and are legal residents with full work authorization, but are not required to reveal their DACA status to employers. Dierksen said he has been made aware that some employees are at risk but has not received a breakdown of their specific positions.

Feltman stressed the importance for individuals currently registered under DACA to start the renewal process sooner rather than later. The courts are now allowing renewals to be initiated beyond the customary 5-month period, but a decision is impending from California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that could close that window.

“If they wait until March 5, folks are going to be 3 months or longer without their work permits or drivers license,” he said. “They should start filing early, just in case it goes to the Ninth and they say no more DACA renewals.”

To contact the writer email sedger@dodgeglobe.com