Our Partners Respond to DeVos’ New Rule Preventing Undocumented Students from Accessing Critical Emergency Financial Aid

On June 11, 2020, the Department of Education proposed a new rule regarding the emergency relief funds for students provided by the federal government through the CARES Act. This rule instructs the institutions to exclude undocumented students when distributing their emergency scholarships to students. It does so by citing and exploiting an old statute,  8 USC 1611, to narrow the definition of “eligible student” as it pertains to the CARES Act. The 450,000 undocumented students enrolled in the postsecondary system were depending on this financial aid to help cover costs and make ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Congress allocated more than $6 billion for college students during this pandemic. These funds are meant to cover everything from food to housing, child care, health care, technology, and course materials. Distance learning has created a number of obstacles for students, who deserve to receive the same high quality education that their tuition pays for and their institution promises. However, not all students are impacted by this pandemic equally. Low-income students, food-insecure students, houseless students, undocumented students, and students of color are disproportionately negatively impacted by the pandemic and its economic ramifications. 

While a rule like this from Sec. DeVos is not unexpected, it’s a slap in the face during a time when people are protesting daily, demanding justice, and calling for an end to systemic racism. Undocumented students already face enormous barriers just to make ends meet. Latinx students are already being crushed by the racial wage gap and skyrocketing unemployment. Black students face a country each and every day that says “your lives don’t matter.” The students at the intersection of these identities and struggles were already shouldering the brunt of this crisis more than their peers.   

Undocumented students and DACA recipients, already ineligible for federal or state financial aid, are already struggling the most to afford higher education. What’s more, these students pay the federal taxes that make CARES Act funding possible. Sec. DeVos decided to insert her own prejudices by taking it upon herself to exclude undocumented students from receiving aid. The CARES Act is intended for emergency funds to be used by all students, and never indicated that any students should be excluded. 

This rule was placed into effect on June 17, and several groups have already initiated lawsuits against DeVos and her department. The California community college system and the state of Washington have filed suits, and several members of Congress have also spoken out against the rule. 

See what our partners and allies have to say about this latest intentional discrimination from Sec. DeVos and the Trump Administration.

The full statements by organizations are accessible via hyperlinks. The statements below were issued before Sec. DeVos’ rule was formally implemented on June 17. 

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:  

“Secretary Betsy DeVos’ rule makes clear that even though COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, this administration does. Our country is facing three major crises—a public health crisis, an economic crisis and a racial justice crisis—all of which exacerbate the inequalities in our communities and require more help from our federal government, not less. Yet in our moment of greatest need, this administration doubles down on its bigoted, anti-immigrant stance, and DeVos does the dirty work by cutting off any aid that could help our undocumented students.

Undocumented immigrants have been working on the frontlines of this pandemic and are the backbone of this country, but in return for their service, they’re being told they’re ineligible for most of the pandemic aid available. From stimulus checks to unemployment, undocumented immigrants have been left out and left behind, and now DeVos wants to extend that attack to immigrant students as well. 

Several states have already sued the Education Department over this guidance, and more pushback is coming. We implore Betsy DeVos to do her job and actually help all students access financial relief in this time of great need, not just the ones who agree with her politically.”

Center for American Progress Vice President for Postsecondary Education Ben Miller:

“The CARES Act was written broadly to get dollars to institutions and students quickly. Doubling down on bad guidance after seemingly walking away from it creates unnecessary confusion and will make it harder for colleges to get much-needed assistance to students.

Many colleges and universities have already established plans and procedures to distribute their emergency aid funds. Now, they’ll have to change course yet again to comply with DeVos’ confusing, unnecessary, and exclusionary guidance going forward. The rule is designed to deny help to some of the most vulnerable students, such as those who are undocumented or haven’t completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), by making them ineligible for emergency aid at a time when all students are feeling the effects of the global pandemic.

The Department of Education has shown it can’t be trusted with discretion in awarding relief dollars. Congress must prevent the agency from adding these extralegal requirements and complexities.”

The Institute for College Access and Success Executive Vice President Debbie Cochrane:  

“There is nothing in the law that requires the Department to deny emergency scholarships to many of the students who need them most. Writing their views into regulation will not protect the Trump Administration from the pending lawsuits. The confusion created by the Department’s missteps are completely at odds with Congress’s goal of getting emergency resources to students who need them, quickly.”

UnidosUS Higher Education Policy Analyst Amanda Martinez:  

“The pandemic has made clear that our health and economic well-being are interconnected. Measures such as this action by the ED are a dangerous step back in putting this crisis behind us. UnidosUS believes that DeVos’s decision to issue this rule during a national public health crisis will cause a major disruption to the lives of Latino students and families particularly for those who are undocumented, who are feeling the brunt of the crisis. Nearly half of Latinos (49%)  have reported that someone in their household lost their job or experienced a pay cut due to the  pandemic-related shutdowns of certain sectors of the economy. At the same time, many Latinos find themselves working on what are deemed essential jobs that put them at risk for virus exposure. And even before the pandemic, 18% of Latinos were uninsured compared to approximately 5% of non-Hispanic Whites, making this population even more vulnerable to the virus. This puts Latino college students at a higher risk of exposure to disruptions caused by COVID-19. 

Undocumented students and face greater barriers to accessing care and employment due to their immigration status. They are also more likely to pay higher rates of tuition and work to help pay for college. On average, undocumented students who pay out-of-state tuition have to work more than 35 hours a week to cover college expenses, while those with in-state tuition work about 23 hours a week.”  

Young Invincibles Advocacy Director for Higher Education Kyle Southern: 

“It’s shameful the Education Department is exhausting every avenue in pursuit of the administration’s xenophobic policy agenda–all during a pandemic. The Department’s effort to exclude hundreds of thousands of tax-paying students from assistance they deserve will also continue to cost millions of other students struggling to make ends meet. Rather than go through a standard rulemaking process, Secretary DeVos is fast-tracking a rule that will add further chaos to implementing the CARES Act while denying students the baseline of support Congress has provided with nearly unanimous support.

The courts should rebuke this effort based on a plain reading of the law. But this action shows Congress must amend the CARES Act to prohibit the Secretary from imposing arbitrary restrictions on emergency assistance based on qualifications beyond a student’s enrollment at a college or university. The HEROES Act would accomplish this goal.”

The following statements were published on or after the rule went into effect on June 17, 2020.

Generation Progress Executive Director Brent J. Cohen: 

“While a rule  like this from Secretary DeVos is unfortunately not unexpected, it is a slap in the face during a pandemic and at a time when many people are protesting daily to demand justice and an end to systemic racism. Undocumented students already face enormous barriers just to make ends meet—and undocumented students who identify as Latinx or Black are more likely to simultaneously be impacted by the racial wealth gap, skyrocketing unemployment, and state-sanctioned violence.

Undocumented students and DACA recipients, who are ineligible for federal—and, in many cases, state—financial aid, are often already paying out-of-state tuition in their home states, and struggling to afford higher education. What’s more, these students pay the federal taxes that contribute to making CARES Act funding possible. The CARES Act itself never indicated that any students should be excluded, but Sec. DeVos once again chose to use her own prejudices to guide her policy.”

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