Monday, June 29, 2020

How universities can expand support for DACA recipients amid COVID-19 cutbacks

Making choices the law does not require is hard. Making those choices when the going is tough is harder.

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the DACA program may continue, it will be up to universities to choose how they will continue to protect DREAMers. The government retains the authority to try again to end the program and they have choices about how they will continue to implement the existing program: whether to extend existing protections, adjudicate pending renewal applications and whether to shield DREAMers from deportation. Deportation is a choice, not a given.

Mostly likely DHS will let DREAMers stay in our communities and campuses (a topic discussed by KJ in immprof here). So long as DREAMers remain on campuses, universities will need to recommit to protections for undocumented students. It will be a hard choice because the university will need to do so voluntarily and without legal compulsion.  Specifically, post-DACA campuses will need to bolster support services, degree completion, student aid, and employment because this is what will be lost: eligibility for college (in some places) and the ability to work and afford tuition (in many more places) so they can finish school. Less tangible is that students will be scared and will, once again, retreat to a life in the shadows.

Harder: universities will need to support DREAMers amid truly difficult circumstances that create a perfectly terrible storm. Universities will need to shore up degree completion during a time when they’re in turmoil. They will need to provide student aid to compensate for lost work permits and immigrant exclusions from education loans and stimulus funding at a time when they are hemorrhaging revenue from lost tuition and lower enrollment. And they will need to communicate support when the public is gripped by fears of a disease that originated overseas and is eroding support for immigration.

  • Support services. Some universities are offering free online legal clinics, counseling services, and informational workshops: CU has an immigration clinic that has offered renewal clinics; there is a statewide meeting of universities to share best practices for supporting students on Friday, July 19. With social distancing requirements in place, campus coordinators will need to be creative in reaching out to students who may not be able to physically gather.
  • Degree completion. Covid-19 has shown that students can learn remotely. The University of Colorado will be in-person but it will offer remote classes to many who need it. The University of Arizona has individual online degree completion plans in place for its impacted students.
  • Student aid. Some undocumented students will still be eligible for in-state tuition; for example, undocumented students in California, Texas, and Colorado have access to in-state tuition and state financial aid.
  • The university should also consider expanding student access to emergency funds, especially for students who lose their work permits due to the DACA rescission and who need to support families who have lost jobs during the recession. The University of Colorado currently has an emergency fund that accepts private donations and makes small grants, but they are small and dependent on generosity from a public that is strained for resources amid job losses and furloughs.
  • Also, undocumented students are doubly impacted by COVID-19 and the DACA decision since the CARES Act emergency funds cannot be disbursed to undocumented students. The Department of Education is interpreting the statute to bar colleges; while a court enjoined their initial efforts, the DOE continues to propose rule that would circumvent this ruling. Colorado’s state and federal legislators are divided on extending public funds to undocumented immigrants.
  • Legal Support: University administrators will need to build on the momentum of the Supreme Court decision to push for continue and expanded legal protections from the federal government: from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services that administers DACA to the DHS components that enforce immigration laws that leave DREAMers vulnerable to deportation.

The Supreme Court decision is a victory for immigrants and the communities who are enriched by their contributions, but none of these solutions will fix the problem of DREAMers lacking a path to citizenship that only Congress can provide. State, local and campus-based supports will need to be supplemented with federal legislation that provides a pathway to permanent legal status and citizenship. But they are a critical foundation. The perilously close decision on DACA exposed the difficulties that DREAMers and undocumented people have long lived with, which have only been complicated with COVID-19 and challenges to racial equality: universities can make choices that help them thrive in these hard times.


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