DACA college students wonder what’s next

Immigration, Rights

[UPDATE: Following the Department of Justice’s announced plans to close the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Avvo has launched a free hotline (1-888-380-4056, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. PST) for DACA program recipients facing legal issues and questions. The DACA program closes its renewal application window on October 5, 2017. Meanwhile, if you are concerned about new Trump Administration policies regarding immigration—or any other legal topic—you can ask a question anonymously and have it answered, for free, by an attorney in our Q&A forum, or get more information on the Avvo immigration page.]

Of all the groups across the United States dealing with confusion over the Trump administration’s September 5, 2017 decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the situation for college students is among the most uncertain.

DACA had provided certain young adults who entered the country illegally as minors with a renewable, two-year period of protection from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. While the program won’t officially expire for six months (barring any legislative intervention by Congress) the uncertainty for DACA recipients, commonly referred to as Dreamers (in reference to the DREAM act, which roughly covers the same group of people as DACA), is immediate.

Program recipients who’ve used their legal status to enroll in college are left wondering if they will be allowed to remain not only in school but, more concerning, in the United States.

Colleges acting to protect students

The reaction of administrators and leaders in higher education was almost instantaneous. The Association of American Universities (AAU) sent a letter to congressional leaders, urging Congress to act to protect DACA participants. Presidents of 57 major colleges and universities across the country signed the AAU letter, calling a solution a “moral imperative.”

Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California (UC) system, also released a statement decrying Trump’s decision. Napolitano, who served as secretary of homeland security from 2009 to 2013, called the move “backward-thinking” and tried to reassure the thousands of Dreamers in the UC system. “The University and the state of California stand together in our belief that students should be admitted to UC and other institutions of higher education based on their records of achievement and without regard to their immigration status,” she said.

Napolitano also committed resources to affected students, including the continued ability of California Dreamers to pay in-state tuition; maintenance of a DREAM financial aid program, legal services for undocumented students, and campus-based support systems; and direction to campus police to not “contact, detain, question, or arrest individuals based on suspected undocumented status.” The University of California system followed up on September 8 by filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging the DACA action.

Loans and deadlines

DACA not only impacts a student’s ability to register for college, but it also allows those students to get a job to help defer the cost of that education. Speaking of cost, many students, both documented and undocumented, rely on loans. Although Dreamers are not eligible for federal student aid, DACA status allows them to apply for state and private grants and loans.

Again, DACA isn’t ending immediately. The Department of Homeland Security, while not accepting any new applications as of September 5, is processing renewals until October 17 for those Dreamers whose permits expire between September 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018. So, Dreamers have time to reach out for legal assistance. Impacted students should take advantage of the resources, like those outlined by Napolitano, at their own educational institutions.