How will doubts around DACA impact college ‘Dreamers’?

Higher ed leaders have expressed support for stronger protections for immigrants

Some 98,000 immigrant students—who were brought to the U.S. as  young children without legal permission—graduate from high school each year, according to research released earlier this year by the Migration Policy Institute.

That’s far above the previously estimated 65,000, the report said, adding that 27% of the students are in California and 17% in Texas. They are commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act.

Recent political wrangling over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) has made the future uncertain for these students who want to stay in the U.S. to work or go to college, the report said. (Implemented during former President Barack Obama’s administration, the program allows young immigrants living in the country illegally who were brought here as children to remain in the U.S. It conveys temporary protection from deportation and permission to legally work.)

“While high school graduation represents an important milestone in the lives of many young people, these graduates will be at risk of deportation and will face severely limited opportunities to pursue further work and education,” noted the report.

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According to multiple reports this week, the Supreme Court may be on the verge of ending DACA. NPR reported that conservative justices expressed strong doubts about the program when questioning lawyers representing “Dreamers.” The New York Times reported that the court could rule in a way that ended the program but made some provisions for young people protected by DACA.

The American Council on Education and 43 other higher ed organizations have filed a brief in the case supporting the “Dreamers” and their access to college. “Dreamers are Rhodes Scholars, scientists, and campus leaders; they are sources of inspiration and insight for their peers; and they are unparalleled ambassadors for our schools abroad,” according to the brief.

And in September, more than 600 college and university presidents signed a letter urging Congress to make DACA’s protections permanent, according to the American Council on Education.

Meanwhile, Thom Reilly, the chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, held a roundtable discussion in November to examine ways to support “Dreamers” in higher ed, The Nevada Independent reported.

Reilly said many colleges in the state hope to designate admissions, guidance and career counseling staff to help these students understand the legal provisions of DACA that protected the children born in the U.S. to immigrant parents. Reilly also called on colleges to work more closely with public school districts so these students can apply for financial aid using the FAFSA, the Independent reported.

In California, community college leaders have told the state they need more funding to support “Dreamers,” which is now required by state law, EdSource reported.

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The University of Illinois at Chicago and other institutions have formed task forces to assess the needs of theses students, who are often hesitant to identify themselves, Tanya Cabrera, associate director for equity and inclusion, told University Business in 2017.

In 2015, Sacramento State University began hosting workshops and informational events for immigrant students living in the country without legal permission. “The students felt there wasn’t a lot of institutional support for them. They had to be their own advocates,” Norma Yesina Mendoza, program coordinator for Sacramento State’s Dreamer Resource Center, told University Business in 2017.

In New Jersey, Rutgers University-Camden trains faculty and administrators on immigration policy and on finding community resources for students living in the country illegally.

“We want to give our team confidence in their knowledge about a complicated topic,” Mary Beth Daisey, vice chancellor for student affairs with Rutgers-Camden, told UB. “Faculty want to help, even if they aren’t sure how.”

Rutgers-Camden held its first college fair for this student population in 2017. Sister campuses in New Brunswick and Newark began hosting similar fairs in 2015.

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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