New legislation could mean in-state tuition for DACA students

On June 29, a group of attorney generals led by Texas’ Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a letter to the Attorney General of the United States Jeff Sessions urging him to eliminate the program. On July 12, former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program may not stand up in the courts.

The DACA program was an executive order issued by former President Barack Obama in 2012. It prevents undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S as children from being deported and provides them with a work permit.

Under the Board of Regents Policy 4.1.6, Georgia State started admitting undocumented students that meet the university’s academic requirements for this year’s spring semester; however, they do not qualify for in-state tuition.

Georgia State can only admit students to pay in-state tuition if they can verify their lawful presence. According to U.S Citizenship Immigration Services, recipients of DACA are not considered to have lawful status in the U.S.

A spokesperson for the CHC said that the meeting with Kelly centered on DACA’s future and whether or not it would pass the legal test if a lawsuit were brought before the federal government.

“The secretary said, ‘To the best of his knowledge and to people that he’s spoken with, it would not,’” the spokesperson said.

Although Kelly did not get into the exact details of what called DACA’s legality into question, the spokesperson said Kelly told the caucus that “it was an overreach of executive power.”

The letter sent to Sessions pointed out the same issue. It states “the Executive Branch does not have the unilateral power to confer lawful presence and work authorization on unlawfully present aliens simply because the Executive chooses not to remove them.”

Despite the letter’s motive, it did not ask Sessions to “immediately rescind DACA or Expanded DACA permits that have already been issued” nor did it “require the federal government to remove any alien.”

However, if the Trump administration does not halt the renewal and provision of DACA permits and cut the program altogether by Sept. 5, then the 11 state attorney generals that signed the letter will take legal action against the program.         

Rigoberto Rivera, DACA recipient and organizer for the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, said the whole situation is frustrating.

“We’ve already made efforts on having in-state tuition,” Rivera said. “We have been in courts for four years now and we have won already and the case has been appealed. So if DACA is taken away we’re gonna lose those efforts.”

At the same time, the most pressing matter for Rivera is deportation. He fears that many DACA recipients will “have to go back into the shadows.”

“They already have our addresses and they already know where we work,” Rivera said. “So there’s a big concern that if the program ends [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] may just show up at the location of the DREAMer and just arrest them.”       

David Lapan, deputy assistant secretary for Media Operations at the Department of Homeland Security, said that the Trump administration’s official stance is not yet fully determined.

“The administration’s stance on DACA is that it is under review,” Lapan said. “[The] DHS continues to administer DACA until decisions are made on its future.”

DACA students could receive greater protection under new bill     
On July 28, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) introduced the American Hope Act. The new bill would allow students to access in-state tuitions and loans.

The American Hope Act is one of many efforts to protect the children of undocumented immigrants from deportation. The CHC’s measure came in the midst of an effort led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to persuade President Donald Trump to cut the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA).

According to the National Immigration Law Center, the new Dream Act would repeal section 505 of the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), which prevents states from making undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition.

If enacted, the Hope Act would do the same; according to a spokesperson for the CHC, this proposal offers more to undocumented youths.

One of the key differences that makes the American Hope Act slightly more progressive than DREAM is, in [the] current DREAM Act, you have to show you lived [in the U.S] continuously since four years prior to [the] date the bill was formally enacted (passed and signed into law), but for the American Hope Act, you have to have arrived before your 18th birthday and show you have lived here since Dec. 31, 2016,” the spokesperson said.

Unlike the DREAM Act, the Hope Act does not have an educational, work or military requirement that undocumented youths must satisfy before undocumented youths can move from the initial, provisional status to permanent status. This would effectively replace one of DACA’s criteria for acceptance into the program.

“A person may request DACA if he or she have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States,” Public Affairs Officer of U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services, Pamela Wilson said.  

The bill would also allow DACA recipients and other immigrant youths to apply for conditional resident status (CPR) and obtain full lawful permanent status (a green card) after three years with CPR status if they refrain from crime. The time they spent as DACA recipients would be incorporated into the three year requirement.

Rivera said he felt the DREAM Act had a better chance of being enacted because the Hope Act covers DACA recipients and non-DACA recipients thereby making it more difficult to pass. But Rivera said he and the Undocumented Youth Alliance will push for both efforts to supply greater protection for DACA recipients.

“It doesn’t matter if it is more broad or not, we just want something more permanent,” Rivera said.

SIDEBAR: Quick Facts on DACA

  • Over 750,000 undocumented youths have received protection from deportation and work permits under the DACA program.
  • Under current law, DACA students are not eligible for federal student aid.  
  • The DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001 and has gone through multiple changes to get passed, but all efforts have so far been rejected by Congress.
  • On Jan. 3 of 2017, Fulton County Judge Gail Tusan ruled that the state of Georgia had improperly denied in-state tuition to DACA recipients.