Alan Aleman, a Mexico-born “Dream” student was among Michelle Obama’s guests for the State of the Union address. Aleman, a student at the College of Southern Nevada, was one of the first in Nevada to sign up for deferred action for undocumented youth, which includes a renewable work permit. Aleman hopes to join the Air Force and become a doctor.
In Dreaming Big, the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education (CCCIE) recommends ways for community colleges to serve a new wave of young immigrants. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, announced by the Obama administration in June, will let undocumented immigrants who arrived as children stay in the U.S. and work legally, if they meet educational and other requirements. Many are expected to enroll in community colleges.
The report deals with increasing college access, extending financial aid to make college affordable, supporting college readiness and success, offering alternatives for adult learners and improving college retention and completion.
President Obama’s quasi-amnesty for young illegal immigrants doesn’t require college attendance or military service, according to Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano’s memo. Applicants who came illegally by age 16 and are 30 or younger must pass a background check showing no felonies or multiple misdemeanors. In addition, the applicant must be: “currently in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education development certificate, or is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States.” Those who qualify will be able to get two-year work permits renewable indefinitely.
“In school” seems to refer to high school. Would dropouts qualify if they enroll in GED or basic skills classes at a community college? Do they have to pass their classes?
The military provision is a bit puzzling: Illegal immigrants aren’t eligible to serve in the military. However, a few use fraudulent papers to enlist. The order doesn’t say whether those who qualify for temporary work permits will be allowed to serve in the military. If so, would their service qualify them for citizenship? I can’t imagine denying citizenship to military veterans.
In May, speaking at the commencement of Miami Dade College‘s commencement ceremonies, President Obama reaffirmed his support for the Dream Act, which provides a path to citizenship for young immigrants who complete two years of college or serve in the military in the six years after qualifying for conditional legal status. The executive order doesn’t promise citizenship.
Congress has refused to pass the Dream Act, which would offer a path to citizenship to young illegal immigrants who enroll in college or serve in the military. But today President Obama ordered a halt to deportations for people under 30 who arrived illegally before the age of 16 and lived in the U.S. for five years. Immigrants must be high school graduates or GED holders with no criminal record, be enrolled in postsecondary education or serve in the military. (Presumably college graduates would be eligible.) Immigrants who qualify will be able to apply for work permits.
While young immigrants won’t get a path to legal status and citizenship, they’ll be able to apply for a two-year “deferred action” that removes the threat of deportation for up to two years, with repeated extensions. “This is not immunity, it is not amnesty,” said Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary. “It is an exercise of discretion.”
The order will cover about 800,000 people, the administration estimates. Counting children under 18 with undocumented status, it will affect up to 1.4 million immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. It could persuade young Latinos to stay in high school or, at least, to earn a GED. Since many immigrants enroll in community college — and those who are’t in school can easily do so — the order could lead to an enrollment surge at community colleges.
A Republican alternative to the DREAM Act creates a path to citizenship for children brought illegally to the U.S. — if they complete a bachelor’s degree. But the STARS (Studying Towards Adjusted Residency Status) Act, introduced by Florida Rep. David Rivera, doesn’t have broad Republican support.
(The bill) would grant alien conditional nonimmigrant status to those who have been in the U.S. at least five years at the time of the bill’s enactment, were brought to the U.S. younger than 16 years old, have earned a high school diploma or GED, have been admitted to an accredited four-year college, and are of “good moral character.”
Upon graduation, a student could apply for a five-year visa renewal, followed by applying for permanent residency and eventually citizenship.
Students who fail to graduate would lose their conditional status.
A separate Rivera bill, the ARMS (Adjusted Residency for Military Service) Act creates a path to citizenship through military service.
By contrast, the DREAM Act requires two years of college — graduation is not required — or two years of military service. That’s a much lower bar.
Most immigrant students who go to college start at a community college. Those who are undocumented aren’t eligible for state or federal aid. Few go on to complete a bachelor’s degree. Of course, STARS might motivate more students to seek a four-year degree, but it ignores other productive paths. Military service would provide another option, but not everyone is healthy enough to serve.
California’s Dream Act, which makes undocumented students eligible for state-funded college aid, will not face a challenge on the ballot. The campaign to overturn what critics called the “nightmare act” failed to gather enough signatures by the deadline.
California Dream Act Offers Path to College for Undocumented Students is my latest U.S. News story.
At San Jose’s Downtown College Prep, the school in my book, nearly all undocumented graduates enroll in community college, work part time and live at home to keep costs down. The new “Dream Act” will make low-income students eligible for fee waivers and then for Cal Grants when they transfer to a university.
But it’s not just about money, says Jennifer Andaluz, the school’s executive director. Students see the new law as a “symbolic win,” perhaps a step toward a federal law that would include a path to citizenship. And even without that, most believe they’ll find a way to legalize some day, somehow, Andaluz says. “They’re very optimistic, very hopeful, very resilient.”
In most states undocumented students aren’t eligible for state aid or even for in-state tuition. As a result, only 5 percent to 10 percent of undocumented high school graduates enroll in college, estimates the Immigration Policy Center. Those who do are highly motivated.
“They hunger for education in a way that, sadly, some students in our country do not,” says Isa Adney, a student life coordinator at Seminole State College in Florida.
At Downtown College Prep, which sends all its graduates to college, undocumented students are much more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years than their classmates who are citizens or legal residents, says Andaluz. “Their attitude seems to be: ‘My parents sacrificed so much for me. I can’t squander my opportunities. The golden gates are going to open and I need to be ready.’”
Opponents of the law are gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would repeal what they call the “Nightmare Act.”
California may offer college aid to undocumented students who qualify for in-state tuition. Several bills to extend aid eligibility passed an Assembly committee with all Democrats voting yes and all Republicans voting no. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has supported the Dream Act. On the other hand, the state is planning to make deep cuts in college and university funding. Spending more to educate people who aren’t going to be able to work legally once they graduate will not be popular.