Today, in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, a panel of federal judges will hear arguments in a case brought to Texas that challenges the validity of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides certain immigrants who were brought to the United States. Documentation as an opportunity to protect children against deportation and to work legally. Hundreds of “DACAmented” and undocumented immigrant youth, students and young adults will call on us to testify at the hearing in New Orleans and take action. One of us, Jose, a DACA recipient and an interlocutor in the case, has an inherent interest in the outcome, as it will likely irreversibly affect his and many others ’professional, educational and personal lives.
Our warning is not exaggerated. Legal experts speculate that Fifth Circuit judges will likely rule the DACA program illegally, as they did in a 2015 case challenging the now-defunct Deferred Action for Parents program and then DACA’s proposed expansion. And, by 2020, the current Supreme Court is less likely to uphold the DACA – or at least not in its current form.
The hearing comes just weeks after the 10th anniversary of the founding of DACA on June 15, when hundreds of DACA recipients and unregistered students – together with college and university presidents and chancellors, business leaders and immigration lawyers – joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Washington, DC. White House officials and agency leaders are celebrating DACA as one of the most successful immigration initiatives in modern history, as well as raising concerns about its bleak future. Due to both DACA’s uncertain legal future and the program’s success in its decades-long history, we urgently need bipartisan congressional action to pass some dream legislation to protect undocumented people who were brought to the United States as children and given. A path to citizenship. And we need higher education leaders and institutions to engage in this urgent advocacy when planning for the prospects of the post-DACA world on their campus.
Already, more than half of the estimated 427,000 unregistered students enrolled in higher education do not have the protection and work permits issued by DACA. Three-quarters of unregistered students entering college are not even eligible for DACA: approximately 100,000 unregistered students graduate from high school each year, but only one-fourth are considered eligible for DACA, primarily because of eligibility criteria for the program’s arrival date. Applicants must enter the United States more than 15 years in advance.
So what can we do? Or, in other words, what should campus do now?
Campuses can now take three steps to prepare for the post-DACA world — and support unregistered students who do not already have DACA and the work that comes with it. Remember that unregistered students deserve affordable education and opportunities to pursue domestic students and their career aspirations.
First, create non-employment-based funding opportunities for experiential learning, internships and fellowships that are open to undergraduate and graduate students without work approval. The Presidents Alliance for Higher Education and Immigration has created a set of frequently asked questions about experiential and funding opportunities for undocumented students, and additional resources and guides can be found on the Higher Aid Immigration Portal.
Second, campuses should audit their program, admissions, and funding criteria to ensure they include unregistered students and do not qualify for DACA status, and their approved national societies and foreign scholarship and fellowship organizations should do the same. Although state policies regarding tuition and financial aid for enrolled students vary, government agencies should be engaged in efforts to ensure that their state’s unregistered undergraduate and graduate students are eligible for state-of-the-art tuition and financial assistance.
Finally, if the Fifth Circuit issues a negative decision to the DACA, which could come sometime this summer or later, administrators should take some time to review their actions. See our Beyond DACA checklist for campuses for quick response planning, contact and student support information and resources.
While there has been significant improvement in the DACA and the protection of undocumented students and others that the President’s coalition is urging the Biden administration to do, we must press Congress to act. A final, upcoming DACA rule from this administration is unlikely to address the concerns of undocumented students who are not currently eligible for DACA or will provide greater protection to DACA recipients. We need to legislate for that.
Recently, Democratic Senators Dick Durbin, Alex Padilla and Kirsten Cinema and Republican Senators John Cornin and Thom Tillis hinted at new ones. Open And negotiations for a targeted package of immigration reform, which will probably include the law of dreams. Prepare your campus now so that you are ready to join students and alumni, campus and business leaders, lawyers and lawmakers in this ongoing and urgent advocacy.
The loss of DACA will be devastating not only for the millions of current DACA recipients, but also for their families and children of citizens, their employers and employees and their higher education institutions. Building on DACA is essential for Congress to pass legislation that will provide permanent legal status for DACA recipients and other dreamers. This legal amendment was long overdue, but considering the uncertain legal future of the DACA, now is the time to finally deliver.