Biden lifts Trump-era ban on aid to undocumented students

Dreamers, refugees and international students all will have access to funds under the new rule.
By: | May 11, 2021
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The Biden Administration announced on Tuesday that international and undocumented students will have access now to a portion of federal pandemic aid, effectively reversing a policy that prevented them from doing so under the Trump Administration.

Those students, refugees, and “Dreamers” who received protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), will be able to seek relief from the $36 billion pool of emergency grants available under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) so they can pay for necessary items such as housing and food, according to several reports.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona told reporters on Monday: “We want to make sure that all students have an opportunity to have access to funds to help them get back on track.”

Those individuals had been blocked last year by former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the former administration from being eligible for federal assistance under the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. But the Biden administration found no reason to prevent them from having access.

“In their capacity as students, undocumented persons, like all postsecondary students, pursue degrees, obtain employment commensurate with their educational attainment and in doing so contribute to the greater good of the economy and society as a whole,” a statement within the 126-page new rule noted.

Less than a year ago, DeVos not only announced undocumented students would be ineligible to access assistance, but students who had defaulted on loans or received bad grades also would not qualify. That led to a slew of lawsuits and calls for DeVos and the Trump Administration to change the policy, given the tremendous strain students and families were facing under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, including those who also could not get traditional college financial aid.

DeVos’ move prompted the Committee on Education and Labor, led by Chairman Bobby Scott (VA), to draft an eight-page letter that outlined their concerns with these bullet points:

  • “The ICR [information collection request] exists solely to support the Department’s unauthorized, unnecessary, and ill-advised policy of restricting student eligibility for CARES-funded emergency aid.
  • Requiring institutions to verify title IV eligibility before awarding emergency grants needlessly slows down the disbursement process and limits access to aid.
  • The Department has not engaged in a deliberative process and, as a result, failed to take steps that would have minimized the burden of disbursing CARES-funded emergency aid.
  • The ICR understates institutional and student burden.”

The Biden administration agreed, and on Tuesday issued its new regulation, saying, “There is no good policy reason to treat [those students] differently.”

It wasn’t until Biden took office in January that those who had defaulted on loans were granted relief. With Tuesday’s announcement, those students who had been enrolled in a higher education institutions from the start of the pandemic can ask to receive help.