The Trump administration’s recent decision to phase out the immigration policy Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has been met with much backlash and criticism, though some have applauded the action. The policy, commonly known as DACA, was enacted in 2012 by executive order during the Obama administration. It allows eligible undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before the age of 16 to obtain a Social Security number, a work permit, and reprieve from deportation. Eligibility includes enrollment in school or completion of high school, continuous residence in the United States, and no serious criminal convictions such as a felony. Recipients do not, however, receive an immigration status or a path to residency or citizenship.
The administration has decided to phase out the program over the course of six months, challenging Congress to pass legislation that addresses this group before the time is up. Many are uneasy about the outcome because Congress has failed to pass several immigration bills throughout the years that would’ve addressed this group, who are called Dreamers. The fates of 800,000 DACA recipients — plus the Dreamers who did not apply — hang in the balance.
While DACA recipients have many reasons to worry about the decision, those who are pursuing higher education have unique concerns.
First, there’s the issue of paying for college. To be clear, DACA recipients were never eligible for federal aid or loans. However, students might, at the discretion of certain states and university systems, receive state aid, in-state tuition, or college aid. At least one state, Virginia, requires undocumented students to have DACA status in order to qualify for in-state tuition. With a Social Security number, DACA recipients can use FAFSA to easily apply for aid at multiple colleges. The effect of this decision on their tuition aid is yet unknown.
In addition, students with DACA may also be apprehensive that their college or university could turn over information about them to immigration authorities that would lead to their arrest or deportation.
In order to reassure their students, several university and college leaders have already spoken out against the decision to end DACA. Leaders of the California State University and California Community College systems expressed their disapproval of the decision. University of California Chancellors also joined the chorus. Californians comprise the largest share of DACA recipients in the country, with 223,000 applications approved.
While tuition aid is an issue, a work permit — or, now, lack thereof — is likely more concerning. If no legislation is passed, work permits for hundreds of thousands of people will expire. Students who might have been supplementing their tuition by working during school can no longer be lawfully employed. Students who might have taken out private loans to get a degree will have no legal way to work to repay them. And high school students may turn away from college altogether with fewer resources at their disposal to pay.
The other major consequence of work permit expiration is that most students would not be able to use their higher education to obtain higher-paying jobs. Any advanced degree would be of little or no financial use to a graduate who cannot lawfully work. These repercussions affect not just recipients, but their spouses, children, parents, and other family members.
Several state attorneys general are already collaborating to sue to keep DACA in place. However, the educational and economic futures of DACA recipients are still largely unknown.
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