'We expect you to comply with the intent of the CARES Act and reverse this unauthorized decision immediately.'
Democrats in the Senate and the House of Representatives have criticized Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for prohibiting colleges and universities from providing immigrant students with financial assistance authorized in a recent federal coronavirus aid package.
The decision by DeVos "unnecessarily harms students in need," the senators, led by Michael Bennet of Colorado, wrote in a letter sent on Monday, adding that preventing aid for undocumented youth participating in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program "contradicts clear Congressional intent and the plain language of the CARES Act."
Nothing in the law prohibits universities from distributing the aid to DACA recipients, or "Dreamers," even if other sections of the law prohibit noneducation-related aid to undocumented immigrants, the senators wrote. Instead, they say, the Education Department fabricated restrictions for colleges and universities.
The 26 senators told DeVos: "We expect you to comply with the intent of the CARES Act and reverse this unauthorized decision immediately."
House Democrats, led by Eric Swalwell of California, also called on DeVos to help all students in need regardless of where they were born.
During this crisis, "we should not be dividing students based on immigration status or unduly limiting aid," the group of 72 House members wrote. "A pandemic is not the time to pass the buck but to take responsibility for what has happened and work expeditiously to correct problems," the group added, criticizing the overall slow pace of distribution of aid to colleges and universities.
On April 21, the Education Department released guidelines prohibiting colleges and universities from providing any of the $6 billion in federal aid meant for students to DACA recipients. Instead, the department said that funding can only go to students who qualify for other federal student aid programs, meaning Dreamers are ineligible.
Congress authorized the aid to help students deal with financial difficulties stemming from the coronavirus crisis.
The letter from the Democratic House members said, "Students across the nation are in financial distress as they struggle to cover expenses related to campus disruptions due to COVID-19, including food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and childcare costs. The funding your department has not provided would go a long way to addressing these needs."
Sanaa Abrar, advocacy director of United We Dream Network, similarly criticized the DeVos decision as "callous policy guidance" that refuses to "help students cover expenses like child care, housing, and food in the middle of an unprecedented global health crisis."
"Every single relief package being discussed in Congress must include both the health care and financial assistance immigrant communities need, especially as the Trump administration continues to attack and scapegoat our communities amidst a pandemic," Abrar added.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.