Colleges and advocates are working to connect undocumented students with resources as they shoulder both pandemic- and immigration-related threats to degree completion. One new website launched by a coalition of higher ed associations and institutions, including Georgetown University, highlights available support, noting that “the higher education community plays a vital role in both advocating for and assisting these young people, many of whom are students on our campuses.”
Facing stress on several fronts
Excluded from receiving emergency grants provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, many undocumented students are struggling. In a recent survey of more than 1,600 undocumented students conducted by The Dream.US, respondents reported a sweeping loss of jobs and income. Half reported needing assistance with food, and two-thirds needed help paying for rent and utilities.
Almost 500,000 U.S. college students are undocumented, and nearly half are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gives certain undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 protection from deportation and a chance to apply for college and jobs. However, the Trump administration in September 2017 announced plans to rescind the DACA program, prompting a number of lawsuits and putting existing and potential DACA recipients in limbo as they await a Supreme Court decision on the program’s future.
New website seeks to support undocumented students
Recognizing the obstacles and uncertainty facing undocumented students and their families, higher education groups recently launched the Remember the Dreamers website. The name refers to students who would have benefitted from the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act—legislation that would have created a path to citizenship for certain undocumented students but was never passed.
The site offers information and resources for a variety of stakeholders on efforts to help DACA-eligible students. It also features the stories of undocumented students and calls on Congress to pursue “a legislative solution for Dreamers and DACA recipients, who are living in legal limbo.”
How can colleges help?
As stakeholders await the Supreme Court’s DACA decision—expected any day—advocates have suggested several ways colleges can help reduce undocumented students’ rising risk of dropping out. According to Education Dive, some institutions are focusing on financial support to compensate for lost CARES Act relief, pausing loan collections, or directing philanthropic funds to undocumented students.
The California community college system, meanwhile, has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Betsy DeVos’s exclusion of undocumented students from receiving CARES Act funds. “It is unimaginable to me that we would not provide relief to tens of thousands of our lowest-income, hardest-working students,” Eloy Ortiz Oakley, the system’s chancellor, wrote in a statement.
Others are ramping up counseling to safeguard students’ mental health, or taking proactive steps in anticipation of the forthcoming DACA decision, such as planning town halls with immigration attorneys and creating courses on self-employment. In anticipation of an “adverse Supreme Court decision,” leaders at 26 Colorado colleges and universities recently called on state legislators to “enact permanent legislative protection for Dreamers and to ensure that the administration does not arrest, detain, or deport these individuals,” Colorado Times Recorder reports.