While Democratic senators continue to criticize U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for excluding so-called DACA students from receiving emergency grants, the University of California and California State University systems said they will use their own funds to help the immigrant students during the pandemic.
The moves come after DeVos last week announced undocumented students brought illegally to the U.S. as children are not eligible for the $6 billion in emergency grants Congress set aside for college students in the CARES Act. The aid is designed to cover student costs such as housing after they’ve had their lives disrupted by campus closures and the move to online education during the crisis.
It wasn’t immediately clear if any other institutions are making emergency grants available to help students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program deal with the financial costs of campus closures during the pandemic.
Jose Munoz, spokesman for United We Dream, an advocacy group for those in the DACA program, said he didn’t know of any others.
Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said other colleges considering giving grants to those covered by DACA do not want to say so publicly. “We applaud any schools who can garner the will and resources to care for students who have been excluded by the Trump administration,” he said in an email.
University of California spokeswoman Sarah McBride said each of the system’s 10 campuses will decide how to distribute the money. But in an email, she said, “The University of California is very disappointed that undocumented students, some of the most vulnerable members of our community, are not eligible to access funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.”
“However,” she said, “these students will not be left empty-handed; the University will leverage other institutional funds to replace financial support that these students have been unfairly restricted from accessing.”
She said about 4,000 students in the system are undocumented, and about 1,600 of those were given the right to live and work in the country lawfully under the DACA program.
California State University spokeswoman Toni Moelle also said the system will be using its own funds to give aid to its DACA students. She said roughly 9,800 students in the system are undocumented, but she did not know how many were covered by DACA.
In addition, some other colleges said they would continue to provide assistance for DACA students. Arizona State University spokesman Chris Fiscus said the university, despite the controversy, never thought federal student aid could be given to undocumented students. But it will continue to solicit private contributions, such as a three-year, $937,000 grant it announced from the Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation in January to fund 35 scholarships for undocumented students.
Paul Feist, a spokesman for the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, criticized the inability of the colleges to use the stimulus funds to help DACA students. “Our undocumented students, including those with DACA status, are among the most vulnerable of the students we serve and deserve to be included in the CARES Act distribution. Many of these students are among the front-line essential workers and first responders who are battling this pandemic. Colleges will continue to support these students as best they can through their Dreamer centers, scholarships, food pantries and other supports, but we should have the flexibility to help those most in need,” he said in an email.
Princeton University reiterated its statement from last week, amid DeVos’s criticism of institutions with large endowments accepting stimulus funds, that it hadn’t asked for the stimulus money and would not be accepting it. The university had said it would still provide help for DACA students and others through its no-loan financial aid program, in which students do not have to repay grants they get from Princeton for tuition.
Meanwhile, Democrats continued to criticize DeVos’s decision. “This decision unnecessarily harms students in need, and contradicts clear Congressional intent and the plain language of the CARES Act,” 28 Democratic senators wrote DeVos on Monday. “We expect you to comply with the intent of the CARES Act and reverse this.”
DeVos has said the measure passed by Congress bars college students who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children from getting the grants to help them deal with the financial costs of campus closures during the pandemic. But the senators disputed that, adding, “It is in the public interest to provide students with emergency financial aid and other educational supports.”
“Ensuring that all students have secure housing, food, and health care during a time of economic turmoil is a key part of keeping families safe and indoors and to ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the letter organized by senators Robert Menendez, of New Jersey, and Michael Bennet, of Colorado. “Furthermore, 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.”