Undocumented immigrant students will remain welcome at California colleges and universities, regardless of President Donald Trump’s decision on Tuesday to roll back legal protections for so-called “Dreamers,” education leaders said.
“Our doors will be wide open for all eligible undocumented students. They are welcome and wanted,” said Long Beach State President Jane Close Conoley. “And we will continue to offer state financial aid to those who are eligible.”
Following up on a campaign promise, Trump announced Tuesday the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, an executive order by President Barack Obama that provided temporary legal protections for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. The Department of Homeland Security will no longer accept new DACA applications, and those who currently hold DACA permits will not be able to renew them if they expire after March 5, 2018. Those whose permits expire before March 5, 2018, must apply for renewal by Oct. 5.
Trump called the DACA program unconstitutional and an executive abuse of power by Obama, “an end-run around Congress” that violated “the core tenets that sustain our Republic,” according to the Washington Post. He pressured Congress to pass immigration laws addressing the plight of so-called Dreamers.
The DACA program, enacted in 2012, allows undocumented residents over the age of 15 to apply for two-year work permits and be protected from deportation during that time. DACA protections are renewable indefinitely, as long as the applicant is not convicted of a crime. DACA does not provide a path to citizenship, nor does it allow recipients to vote.
In California, 242,339 young people have received DACA status since 2012, according to the Migration Policy Institute. While California’s public colleges and universities don’t track the number of DACA students enrolled, they estimate that 72,300 undocumented students are enrolled at the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges (60,000 at community colleges, 8,300 at Cal State and 4,000 at UC). Nationwide, about 800,000 young people have received DACA status.
For college students, having DACA protections entitles you to work legally on campus, which is a requirement of some financial aid packages, and be free of the fear of immediate deportation. Stripped of DACA protections, undocumented college students will not be expelled from California public schools but they may lose some financial aid or be deported. Workers with DACA status may lose their jobs and likewise be deported.
“Ending DACA would be completely devastating, not just for undocumented families but for the entire U.S. economy,” said Prerna Lal, staff attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center and immigration attorney for UC Berkeley’s Undocumented Student Program. “For undocumented students, it’s very scary. They feel anxious, afraid and betrayed because they trusted the government and handed over all their personal data, which could lead to their deportation.”
Deporting DACA workers would have a huge impact on California’s economy, according to a report by the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. California, which has an estimated 194,000 DACA workers, stands to lose $11.6 billion in gross domestic product over the next decade based on lost wages and productivity, according to the report.
Jose Jesus Gonzalez, a Dreamer with DACA who recently graduated Sacramento State, said the Trump administration announcement triggered a mixture of emotions: sadness but also hope that Congress will act to protect the DACA recipients over the next six months.
“I’m being hopeful that there is something better to come. Hopefully Congress will act upon this and make the choice,” said Gonzalez, who is 27 and was brought from Mexico to the USA when he was five years old.
“It makes no sense to be sent back to the country where we were from. We are going to be foreigners there,” said Gonzalez, who is now working as a social work investigator helping foster children. He was able to renew his DACA status in July for the next two years but said he had a month’s gap without a work permit, and that he recalled was a scary time.
“It makes me sad more than mad,” he said. When I didn’t have that work permit for that month, I thought about how all my schoolwork could go to nothing,” said Gonzalez, who often attended college part-time so he could earn money. He also received the California Dream Act grants and a loan since he was ineligible for federal aid.
UC President Janet Napolitano, who was secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security when DACA was enacted, has been an outspoken supporter of the policy.
“The University and the state of California stand together in our belief that students should be admitted to UC and other institutions of higher education based on their records of achievement and without regard to their immigration status,” Napolitano said Tuesday. “I call upon the U.S. Congress to immediately pass bipartisan legislation that would provide a permanent solution for these young people — one that charts a secure pathway toward citizenship and allows these Dreamers to continue to live, work, and serve the only country most of them know as home.”
In 2001, California enacted AB 540, which allows undocumented students to enroll in public colleges and universities and pay in-state tuition and receive state financial aid, if they’ve lived in California for at least three years. That law remains intact, despite the possible repeal of DACA.
The California Community Colleges system enrolls the majority of the state’s undocumented college students, and provides resources and referrals for students and staff. The governing board also passed a resolution in January vowing to protect undocumented students if DACA is repealed, and has done extensive outreach to recruit and reassure immigrant students.
“Ending DACA is a heartless and senseless decision that goes against American ideals and basic human decency. Those who are affected by this decision were brought to this country as children and are pursuing an education and making contributions to their communities,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley. “Some have served in the armed forces defending this country. In California, we don’t put dreams — or Dreamers — on hold. The California Community Colleges remain committed to serving all students, regardless of immigration status and to providing safe and welcoming environments in which to learn. We will do all within our power to assist students affected by this decision, and we will advocate tirelessly in Congress for a permanent resolution to this issue.”
Cal State Chancellor Timothy White said, “There are thousands of students following the DACA pathway in pursuit of their higher education goals on a CSU campus. DACA has proven its worth by enabling these students to have hope and opportunity for a better tomorrow through a college education. We take great pride in the fact that graduates go on to support themselves, their families and their communities as tax-paying members of society in ways that benefit California and the nation.”
EdSource staff writer Larry Gordon contributed to this report.