DACA students left out of the CARES Act


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DACA students are left out of the CARES Act, a relief fund for those impacted by COVID-19. 

Students who are undocumented may not be able to receive the emergency grant that is part of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief act.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has said the aid will not go to undocumented students, even those who pay taxes or are under federal protection.

Congress approved nearly $12 billion in aid for colleges and universities nationwide as part of the higher education emergency relief fund, also known as the CARES Act. The emergency grants are used to help students who may have lost work, housing or need help to set up for distance learning.

The U.S. Department of Education set procedures for how institutions should carry out these funds. DeVos stated students must be eligible for federal financial aid in order to receive these funds. This blocked Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students, who are often referred to as “Dreamers”.

Students who came to the U.S. illegally as children were protected from deportation through former President Barack Obama’s DACA program. President Donald Trump has abolished the shielded deportation program since he deemed it to be illegal.

“The lengths this administration goes through to exclude DACA students ends up hurting a lot more [people],” said Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

According to the Iowa Dispatch, the higher education relief funds also create barriers for other students who do not qualify for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This includes students who have criminal records, failed to complete their FAFSA or have defaulted on student loans.

Even though DeVos is excluding students from not receiving this aid, there are Democrats who have decided to push back against her decision. They have even stepped up their boundaries by signing a letter that criticizes DeVos’s guidance. Rep. Dave Loebsack and Rep. Cindy Axne were among the signers of the letter.

“In this extraordinary time we should not be dividing students based on immigration status or unduly limiting aid,” the lawmakers wrote. “We request that you immediately help students most in need during these unprecedented and challenging times and ensure emergency financial aid grants are fully distributed in an efficient manner.”

In addition to the letter, a group of Senate Democrats asked DeVos to reverse her decision and allow DACA students to receive funding.

“We have seen disturbing data on how COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color. Blocking support for DACA recipients will only worsen this crisis and harm our families and communities,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to DeVos on April 27th.

A group of House Democrats introduced a “Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act” last month that would give economic support to immigrant families.

According to the Iowa Dispatch, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, introduced similar legislation in the Senate. The legislation may not be able to be approved in the Republican-controlled Senate, but it creates an issue as lawmakers debate future relief bills.

Health and human rights advocacy groups wrote a letter expressing to congressional leadership to work more with the legislation to support immigrant families.

Iowa State received $10.8 billion in Federal CARES Act funds to receive money for housing, food and other expenses. Financial Aid director Roberta Johnson has said they have already dispersed $7.8 million. The average grant money students are receiving is about $1,400.

Johnson has also said they have been receiving approximately 300 to 400 applications daily. 

“We definitely pointed them to our website to fill out the applications to receive aid” Johnson said. “We’ve seen over the past few weeks over 7,000 applications. We have a very large demand.”

Students who did not qualify for the CARES Act funds have options to other resources they can benefit from. The Iowa State University Foundation provided over $170,000 through the athletic campaign #CycloneStrong.

The application for students who did not receive aid for the CARES Act was closed on May 19th.

Johnson said they are also contacting other organizations to help support students who can not receive aid through the coronavirus relief fund.