The fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was put into question once again this month. DACA, which protects from deportation to students and workers illegally brought to the U.S. as children, was ruled unlawful by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas said that the Obama administration violated federal law by setting up the program through executive order. Hanen ordered the government to stop approving first-time applications for the programs. However, students already covered by DACA won’t face immediate ramifications.
The ruling sent s hockwaves through higher education.
“I think many of us on campus, including our students, have had a sense that with a new administration DACA is protected and we do not have to worry about DACA now — everything’s OK,” Elsa Núñez, president of Eastern Connecticut State University, said during a webinar Wednesday. “But that’s not the case.”
The ruling has ramifications for colleges and their current and prospective students. Roughly 216,000 college students are eligible for or are participating in DACA, according to a 2020 report from two immigration advocacy groups.
Many prospective students who don’t yet have protected status under DACA but were counting on the program will no longer have access to in-state tuition prices or be eligible for some scholarship programs. And they will face uncertainty about their legal status once again after the Trump administration attempted to unravel the program in 2017.
Colleges should be ready to provide students with legal and mental health services, policy and higher ed experts said.
“For new initial applications that haven’t yet been approved, for students who may have been waiting to gather up money for a DACA application … it’s devastating news,” said Miriam Feldblum, co-founder and executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration.