Dreamers Could Access Federal Student Aid Under Budget Bill

Most of the billions of dollars in higher education investments in President Biden’s Build Back Better Act will go to institutions and programs that already receive some sort of federal support. But if the law is passed as it is currently drafted, the federal government will invest in a particular group of students that it has not previously supported — those who are undocumented.

The current text of the Democrats’ $ 1.75 trillion social spending bill includes a provision that would extend eligibility for federal student aid to students with temporary protected status or who are on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that offers protection against deportation to immigrants often known as Dreamers who were brought to the United States undocumented as children. About 427,000 undocumented students are in higher education, but none of them are able to finance their studies with federal financial aid, although most would be eligible based on their qualifications. income.

Many undocumented students work long hours or multiple jobs to pay for their education and support their families at the same time. Often, it’s not academics that hinder undocumented students’ success in higher education, it’s the pressure to juggle all of their financial responsibilities, said Candy Marshall, president of TheDream.US, an organization that provides financial support to dreamers who wish to participate. University.

Tatiana Faria, an undocumented student, first enrolled at Miami Dade College in 2006 at the age of 18, but had to drop out soon after because her parents were kicked out. Now 33, she was only able to re-enroll at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida this fall, as she received help from TheDream.US. Meanwhile, it took her sister a decade to complete her bachelor’s degree in social work because she was moonlighting to support herself and Faria and to pay for her college tuition without federal funding.

“If federal aid were available, it would be such a big difference in how the undocumented community is often unable to be in school for long periods of time,” said Faria. “When I was ready to go back to school, I couldn’t because I didn’t have access to federal aid. I could have been at school in 2014 or 2015. ”

Under the Build Back Better Act, thousands of undocumented students would not only have access to the Pell Scholarships – federal aid for low and moderate income students that does not have to be repaid – but they could also receive loans. federal, which tend to have better terms than private loans, and participate in federal work-study programs on their campuses.

“The possibility of getting a Pell Scholarship, Federal Loans, and a Federal Working Study Program would be huge for students with DACA,” Marshall said. “All three can be very important elements in helping undocumented students with DACA pay for their college education.”

Inclusion of this provision in the bill has taken years, with organizations like TheDream.US, UnidosUS and the Alliance of Presidents for Higher Education and Immigration advocating for accessible higher education benefits to women. undocumented students. This has been a key priority for members of the Alliance of Presidents, a coalition of more than 500 presidents and chancellors of public and private institutions, since the alliance’s inception in 2017, according to Miriam Feldblum, co-founder and executive director.

“Financial aid is what allows students to enroll in higher education, stay in higher education and graduate,” Feldblum said. “It’s fundamental for the job.

The countryside

For these organizations, their advocacy for expanding access to education has mainly focused on educating and informing members of Congress, their staff and decision-makers in the Department of Education. . The facts speak for themselves, they say.

Having funded 7,500 students, TheDream.US has plenty of data on the outcomes of undocumented students with financial support that they like to share with lawmakers, Marshall said. For example, their academics have a 94% first-year persistence rate, an 86% overall retention rate, and a 79% six-year graduation rate.

“Some of this data is so amazing and really compelling to people,” Marshall said.

In Congress, Representatives Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, and Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat, have often been leaders on this issue.

“For several years, I have worked hard on the House Education and Labor Committee to expand resources for students to access higher education, regardless of family income or status. ‘immigration,’ Castro said in a statement to Inside higher education. “The dreamers, the people who arrived in the United States at a young age, are essential members of American society, contributing as essential workers during this pandemic and should be given the opportunity to realize their full potential. “

Grijalva said in a statement to Inside higher education that allowing undocumented students access to federal aid through the Build Back Better Act would help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If we expand eligibility for federal student aid, we give more opportunities to students to gain high paying jobs and continue to contribute to the economy of this country,” Grijalva said.

UnidosUS regularly discusses how the whole country would benefit by allowing undocumented students to access federal aid. Without it, many are prevented from getting an education and fully utilizing their skills and talents, said Roxanne Garza, senior education policy advisor at UnidosUS. And the talent pool is only growing: approximately 98,000 undocumented students graduate from American high schools each year.

“They are here to stay,” Garza said. “Denying their access to federal student aid hinders the nation’s ability to compete in a competitive global marketplace. We would only be shooting ourselves in the foot by not helping these students.

Of course, the provision has a lot of opposition, although its inclusion in a budget reconciliation bill means it could pass without broad bipartisan support. House Education and Labor Committee ranking Republican Virginia Foxx of North Carolina said in a statement to Inside higher education that the Biden administration is “trying to embezzle US taxpayer dollars to fund the tuition fees of non-citizens.”

“This provision is a slap in the face for… hard-working taxpayers who struggle to enroll their own children in college,” Foxx said. “Once again, President Biden hangs a welcome sign on our southern border, straining our social safety net programs and bleeding the American people dry to pay for it.”

Yet while increasing federal aid to DACA recipients and TPS holders would be a welcome change by advocates, it would not help the majority of current and potential undocumented students. The Build Back Better provision is important, but it’s not enough, Feldblum said.

Limited impact

This is because of the 427,000 undocumented students in higher education, only 42%, or 181,000 students, are DACA beneficiaries or eligible for DACA. And those who are eligible but not eligible might not benefit anytime soon – the Biden administration is not allowed to approve any of the nearly 83,000 new pending applications for the program, after a federal judge has it. declared illegal in July.

“An increasing number of undocumented students are arriving on campuses that are not eligible for DACA,” Feldblum said. “While it’s really important, it’s just a down payment. We still need legislation that covers all undocumented students and offers an extension of eligibility to anyone who only knows the United States as their home. “

The Biden administration is working to “preserve and strengthen” the DACA by codifying the program into a regulation, given that it was in part deemed illegal because it was enacted without the development of notice and comment rules. But the rule proposed by the Department of Homeland Security does not change an essential part of the program, which is that applicants must have arrived in the United States before 2007.

“The idea was that you were to be in the country for five years, and [DACA] was put in place in 2012, ”Marshall said. “This year, for a student finishing high school to meet these criteria, he should have come before the age of 4. Even if they are successful in this new rulemaking process, if they don’t change that date it will help some, but again there will be many who will be left behind.

The Alliance of Presidents supports a multi-pronged approach, where DACA recipients and GST holders can access federal financial assistance, but other immigration arrangements, such as a pathway citizenship for undocumented migrants are finally adopted as well. Interim measures are crucial, but their coalition plans to continue pushing for more, Feldblum said.

Faria said the Dreamers want a permanent change that makes higher education more accessible to them – not a temporary or conditional fix, or that just adds a band-aid to the situation.

“It would be a great gift if the Dreamers had this access to higher education where they are on an equal footing like everyone else, because they are future scientists, future accountants and there is so much potential”, Faria said.

Comments are closed.