Supreme Court hears DACA case as higher ed urges program’s continuation

This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three cases challenging the legality of the way President Trump’s administration ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The nation’s 700,000 existing DACA recipients, potential participants, and higher education leaders now eagerly await the court’s ruling, which is expected by June 2020, Politico reports.

Related: Georgetown urges Supreme Court to allow DACA to continue >

President Obama started the DACA program in 2012 to give undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 protection from deportation and a chance to apply for college and jobs. In September 2017, the Trump administration announced plans to rescind the program, prompting a number of lawsuits. The lawsuits resulted in nationwide injunctions issued by U.S. district courts in California, New York, and the District of Columbia. The nation’s highest court agreed to consider a challenge to those injunctions; in the meantime, existing recipients have been able to renew their permits, but no new applications have been processed, leaving many applicants in a state of limbo, reports Politico.

Related: How are colleges supporting undocumented students amid DACA limbo? >

“Court watchers differed in their assessment of the arguments” presented to the Supreme Court justices on Tuesday, writes Inside Higher Ed. Some observers thought the court’s conservative majority seemed receptive to the Trump administration’s case for terminating DACA, while others pointed to justices’ apparent concerns about the administration’s approach.

Stakes for students who are undocumented immigrants

Stakeholders throughout higher education have been closely tracking the DACA cases, given the program’s implications for undocumented students’ ability to apply for college, financial aid, study abroad opportunities, internships, and jobs, Education Dive reports.

“With DACA, there was an immediate sense of relief, knowing that I’d be able to go to college and apply to scholarships,” Arisaid Gonzalez Porras, a Georgetown University student, told NBC News. “I remember getting my first paycheck at Georgetown and not having to think twice about inserting a social security number, which was a major consideration before DACA.”

DACA also gives certain students access to in-state tuition rates and the ability to apply for private loans. Advocates for preserving the program say that removing this access will derail current students’ careers and financial investments in higher education. “Besides exposing me to the risk of deportation, losing DACA would also mean I immediately would lose in-state tuition, nearly doubling my costs and putting a college education out of reach for me,” wrote Yanet Limon-Amado, a DACA recipient at Virginia Commonwealth University, in The Washington Post.

High school students, college students, and administrators rallied in front of the Supreme Court this week, and on social media, using the hashtag #HomeIsHere. Gonzalez Porras, who attends Georgetown on full scholarship and wants to go to law school, was among the protestors. “I’m out here representing my community on campus, my community back home, my parents. I’m here to show [the Supreme Court] that I’m a human being and I’m more than just a number,” she told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Ripple effects for universities

If the Supreme Court sides with the administration, there will be the additional question of how to shutter DACA, writes Education Dive. Program participants are now employed in many places, including as educators, administrators, and researchers at colleges and universities. If the ruling takes effect immediately, it could “have a huge impact on universities,” said María Blanco, executive director of the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center at the UC Davis School of Law. Universities could suddenly have classes without instructors and a drop in student workers on campus. “Universities would have to scramble,” she said. “We’re very worried about it.”

Many universities have spoken up in favor of continuing the DACA program. Georgetown University in October joined a number of colleges and universities in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the DACA program, stating that students with DACA status are “some of the most gifted and motivated young people in the world.” Similarly, the American Council on Education and 43 other higher education associations filed an amicus brief protesting the unfair disruption of students’ lives and plans. “These young people came out of the shadows, enrolled in school, took out private student loans, worked hard to earn advanced degrees, started jobs, started families, and made countless other life decisions of tremendous import, all in reliance on DACA. The rescission would subvert all of that.”

Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system and former secretary of homeland security at the time DACA was created, has been a vocal advocate for DACA recipients, 1,700 of whom study in the UC system. “These are young people who have done all that has been asked of them,” she said. “To remove their DACA protection in the way that the Trump administration has attempted to do and to make them subject to eviction from the only country they know as home is not only not legally required, but it is inconsistent with good immigration policy and inconsistent with our values as a country.”

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