Last November, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether the administration could rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), with the fate of over 650,000 DACA recipients in the balance. While a decision is expected by June 2020, colleges and universities—including New England institutions—can begin preparing now.
As of September 2019, New England is home to more than 10,000 DACA recipients, according to data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. DACA is a renewable protection originally created under the Obama administration that lets undocumented immigrant youth live and work legally in the U.S.
Under federal law, DACA recipients cannot access federal financial aid, so most rely on a mix of private scholarships, state or institutional aid, personal savings and multiple jobs to afford a college education. New England is a hub of prestigious higher education institutions, but remains a mixed bag for college-bound undocumented students. Connecticut and Rhode Island opted to extend in-state tuition to all state residents regardless of immigration status, while Massachusetts and Maine extend in-state tuition only to DACA recipients. New Hampshire effectively bars undocumented students from in-state tuition and financial aid, though individual institutions (such as the private Southern New Hampshire University) offer scholarships for undocumented students or in-state tuition for DACA recipients, according to the uLEAD (University Leaders for Educational Access and Diversity) Network.
But we don’t have to wait for the worst-case scenario to support undocumented students. Nationally, approximately 98,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year, the most recent graduating without access to DACA. Approximately 450,000 undocumented students with and without DACA are studying at colleges and universities across the country. With that in mind, here are five ways universities and states can help their DACA and undocumented students, before and after the Supreme Court decision:
Renew, renew, renew! Colleges should encourage DACA recipients to renew immediately if they have a year or less of their DACA status. While we do n0t know exactly how the program could be phased out, pending applications (e.g. those received by the government on the date of a decision) may still be processed if the Supreme Court allows the administration to end DACA. There are also resources available to help with the process and application fees.
Audit your internal and external financial aid policies regarding DACA and undocumented undergraduate and graduate students. Take a look at the eligibility criteria for your institution’s admissions, financial aid and tuition policies for DACA and undocumented students and, if needed, adjust them. Institutional policies should ensure that funding streams available to DACA recipients can be expanded to those without DACA. Delinking DACA from eligibility criteria lets institutions expand financial aid, admissions and tuition policies to both former DACA recipients and those who could not apply for DACA. While undocumented undergraduates have received considerable attention, it is crucial for institutions to also improve access, funding and support for undocumented graduate and professional students.
Weigh in on the state level and work to amend state tuition and aid policies. If your state policies are in any way tailored to DACA, explore how they can be expanded if DACA is ended so the same cohort of students continues to benefit. For example, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education currently bases its in-state tuition rules around DACA recipients’ work permits, which they would lose along with DACA. States can adopt proxy measures, like length of residency, instead of immigration status to capture that same population.
Establish alternative options for income generation. Students will need to prepare for the possibility that they may lose their work permits and the ability to generate income. Schools can support students by directing them to non-employment-based internships and externships and creating or expanding fellowships and scholarships that also do not require work permits.
Both public and private institutions can develop non-employment-based funding through educational fellowship programs. An educational fellowship funds a student through a scholarship or stipend rather than through the employer. As long as the student is the “primary beneficiary” of the work relationship (the closely supervised work is closely related to learning goals), this is not considered an “employment relationship” by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Schools can also think outside the box and look for opportunities with cooperatives, self-employment and small businesses—lawful options that do not necessarily require employment authorization.
Connect students to campus resources. Connect DACA recipients to legal resources so they can see if they qualify for better forms of relief. Schools will have to invest in investigating and educating students, counselors and immigrant resource centers on alternative forms of income generation. Importantly, campuses should connect students to other forms of support, including mental and health services.
Finally, earlier this year the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration convened stakeholders including higher ed presidents and chancellors, government relations experts and advocates to develop the Campus Checklist to Prepare for a Supreme Court DACA Decision, a synthesis of the top opportunities for campuses to prepare for a DACA decision. We encourage campuses to utilize it extensively.
Miriam Feldblum is executive director and Jose Magaña-Salgado is director of policy and communications at the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. Photo courtesy of Rena Schild/Shutterstock.com.