Dive Brief:

  • The Trump administration is scaling back the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program while it reviews the Obama-era policy, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday afternoon.
  • New requests for DACA will be rejected and the renewal period of existing protections will be reduced from two years to one.
  • The announcement comes nearly six weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the program, saying the administration did not follow proper administrative procedures in its attempt to end it.

Dive Insight:

In its majority opinion keeping the program in place, the court wrote the administration’s attempt to end DACA was “arbitrary and capricious” and didn’t provide enough of a reason for doing so. However, legal experts said the decision effectively pointed the administration to the proper procedural path to eliminate the program.

The Homeland Security Department’s memo, written by Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, says the program “presents serious policy concerns that may warrant its full rescission,” which requires “additional careful consideration.” The department is paring back the program while it considers what to do next, he said.

With the court’s ruling, the department was supposed to go back to running the program as it did before it moved to end it in 2017, when it froze approvals of new applications. But the government was still rejecting applications after the decision, the Los Angeles Times reported. And as of last Wednesday, a webpage advertising the program stated the federal agency administering the program “is not accepting requests from individuals who have never before been granted deferred action under DACA.”

DACA offers protection from deportation and the opportunity to work in the U.S. for people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The program, and its potential elimination, has implications for students, faculty and staff at K-12 schools and colleges across the country.

More than 450,000 unauthorized students attend U.S. colleges, accounting for around 2% of all higher education enrollment in the country. About half are eligible for DACA, according to a recent report. Without those protections, students may be unable to finish their studies in the U.S. Faculty and staff may also be affected.

Unauthorized college students also may be under financial pressure, as they were left out of key federal coronavirus relief programs, including those for the higher ed sector. Some colleges are helping them with institutional grants and targeted outreach, however.

The announcement also comes as K-12 districts nationwide are preparing for fall, with some planning limited in-person learning and others planning for hybrid instruction when local health and safety guidelines allow. 

But districts are already short on staff, and some older teachers are choosing to retire early as a result of the pandemic. Out of the nation’s DACA recipients, approximately 9,000 were employed as teachers or other education professionals in 2017. Last month, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García put that number at 15,000. Others are employed as support staff, doing essential work like driving buses with food deliveries even when schools remain closed. 

The sudden departure of DACA recipients could also be a blow to states’ revenues, which have declined as their economies slowed during shutdowns and when schools are in greater need of funds. DACA recipients contribute more than $1 million annually in 41 states and the District of Columbia, and more than $50 million in 12 states, according to an analysis last year by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. 

Nearly 50% of those tax-paying DACA recipients are concentrated in California and Texas, states considered trendsetters in the education system. 

Scaling back DACA could also affect students’ mental health. Almost 4 million K-12 students in 2014 had at least one unauthorized immigrant parent, and policy changes impacting this population have been shown to trigger mental health illnesses such as adjustment disorder, acute stress disorder and anxiety disorder. 

Sudden immigration policy shifts impacting this population could mount the need for districts to provide mental health supports for students, many of whom are already expected to return in the fall with increased trauma and anxiety, among other concerns, after the pandemic.

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