By Mary Ellen Flannery
While the federal CARES Act has set aside more than $6 billion for emergency financial grants to college students to help them pay for food, rent, childcare, and other expenses during the coronavirus pandemic, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos specifically excluded some immigrant students who desperately need the help.
DeVos blocked DACA recipients—those students who were brought to the U.S. as children, and who participate in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—from taking part in the coronavirus-relief fund. Approximately 216,000 college students in the U.S., or 1 percent of college students, are DACA-mented, according to the New American Economy.
This was “an intentional attack on our immigrant community,” said Sindy Benavides, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) during a recent tele-town hall with NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “She did not have to take that action, and yet, she did.”
Appalled, Democratic lawmakers are looking to stop DeVos in their next COVID-related effort. The HEROES Act, a $3 trillion relief package that the U.S. House passed decisively last week, includes a measure that would prohibit the Secretary of Education from excluding populations of students, including those with immigration statuses, from receiving emergency coronavirus-relief aid.
To urge your Senator to take action on the HEROES Act, which also includes student debt cancellation and $100 billion to maintain student services, avoid educator layoffs, and pay for PPE, visit NEA Education Votes.
“I would have used it for food.”
In California, an estimated 800,000 community college students have been harmed by DeVos’ exclusion, including students who have not completed a federal financial aid form for whatever reason and students who are noncitizens, including DACA recipients. Last week, with those students in mind, the California community college system sued the Department of Education.
The legal action has the support of California’s Community College Association (CCA), an NEA-affiliated union. “[We’re] pleased to see the Chancellor’s Office take action to provide to colleges the flexibility they need to help students without the restriction of eligibility requirements. Community college faculty support the education of all California community college students,” said CCA President Eric Kaljumägi.
At San Bernardino Valley Community College in California’s Inland Empire, counselor Tania Laguno says college administrators are attempting to help students by providing access to the campus pantry and with gift cards for groceries, gas, and other essentials. Because San Bernardino is near several Amazon warehouses, which have been deemed “essential businesses” by state lawmakers, some DACA-mented students still have jobs. Others, who work in service industries, such as restaurants, do not.
Some also don’t have computers or internet access, which are now essential to their ability to connect with their professors and continue with their college classes.
Arizona State University junior Andres Mendoza, a special education and elementary education major, is a DACA-mented student who had hoped to access federal support. “I was hopeful that I would get some support. As a community, we’re all hopeful,” Mendoza told a Phoenix public radio show earlier this month. Many of his classmates in ASU’s immigrant-student community would have used the money to buy laptops, or pay for WiFi, he said.
“I would have used it for food and school supplies. That’s what’s most important for me.”