Last week US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that no new work permits would be issued under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program . The also announced that the program would end within six months, unless Congress takes action. Attorney General Sessions made the announcement with the full support of President Donald Trump.
DACA is a special interest for college advisors, school guidance counselors and college admissions officers. The program has allowed children of illegal immigrants to apply for two-year work permits to study or be employed beginning at age 16 through age 31. Approximately 65,000 children of illegal immigrants graduate high school in the US each year. They attend college, work and serve in the US armed forces. Since 2012, the first year that DACA was implemented by the Office of Immigration and Citizenship Services within the US Department of Homeland Security, near 800,000 permits to work or study have been issued then renewed. Only 7,100 applications for renewal have been denied. The news media has also reported that over 90 percent of DACA recipients are either employed or in school.
DACA receives no Federal funding. That comes from the permit fees paid by the applicants. These fees are nearly $500 plus the costs of any outside legal services required to help prepare the application. Programs that create educational or economic opportunity at little to no cost in taxes or new spending will usually receive support from Democrats and Republicans alike. But there has been conservative opposition to DACA since former President Barack Obama created the program through an executive order.
President Trump, Attorney General Sessions and other conservatives believe that DACA has provided a path to employment and educational opportunities to illegal immigrants at the expense of US citizens. They, and their supporters also believe that state governments have incurred unnecessary costs to accommodate DACA recipients such as health care, education subsidies, economic relief (welfare, unemployment) and law enforcement.
But they are not eligible for most of these benefits, even though many have taxes and Social Security contributions taken out of their paychecks. DACA recipients are not eligible for Federal financial aid. State governments are left to their own discretion for charging in-state tuition and offering financial aid to DACA recipients at public colleges and universities. Private colleges leaders may also decide to offer aid.
Attorney General Sessions, among other conservatives, has said that DACA is unconstitutional because it was created through a presidential executive order, not by an Act of Congress signed by the president. Yet presidents have more authority on immigration policy than many other issues. However, DACA has never been ruled unconstitutional by any Federal court. Nor has any state official, not even the 11 state attorney generals who threatened the President and Attorney General Sessions with a lawsuit over DACA, asked that DACA be rescinded. But all of these attorney generals hail from states that gave their electoral votes to President Trump in the 2016 election. Given Sessions lack of enthusiasm for DACA it is easy to believe that he and the president went the “political route.” They would not want to defend a policy that they strongly oppose as this lawsuit made its way through the Federal court system.
Are DACA recipients admitted to public colleges at the expense of citizens? This depends on admissions practices that vary from school to school.
If a DACA recipient qualified for admission through a numbers-based admissions process (grades, test scores), then no. If s/he qualified for admission through a more competitive process that required essays as well as numbers, that answer is still no, as long as the applicant wrote an essay that was viewed favorably by the admissions officers who read it. Admissions officers at state schools have to adhere to some guidelines at crafting a class (diversity, in-state vs. out-of-state. for example) but they still need to read a large volume of applications. If anything, a decision to admit academically qualified DACA recipients from in-state who can write well but must pay out-of-state tuition is likely to be a “no-brainer.”
Could a solution emerge from Congress within the next six months? Its possible, if there are enough areas where Democrats and Republicans can come to a majority vote, possibly to override a presidential veto.
DACA recipients might need to be considered based on whether they are employed, servicing in the armed forces or in school, since they are in different life situations. It is possible that DACA recipients who are pursuing college degrees could have their permits extended to enable to them to finish their education, even receive extensions to pursue an advanced degree. That would be fair and a motivational tool, too.
But it is unlikely that a conservatively dominated Congress would extend them access to Federal financial aid, especially with midterm elections coming up. Nor is this Congress likely to pass a revised version of DACA that will offer a path to citizenship. That’s a shame when thousands who are doing what good citizens do will continue to be relegated to inequality.
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