Higher Ed Organizations Lobby to Protect DACA Recipients

The organizations say time may be running out for Dreamers after a recent appeals court decision laid the groundwork to strike down DACA.

Published October 12, 2022

Edited by Raneem Taleb-Agha
Higher Ed Organizations Lobby to Protect DACA Recipients
Global EDU Higher Ed Policy
Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images News / Getty Images

  • Advocacy groups are calling on Congress to protect Dreamers, particularly those who are current college students.
  • A recent court decision leaves the future of the DACA program uncertain.
  • Approximately 400,000 college students in the U.S. are estimated to be undocumented, including DACA recipients.

Higher education advocacy groups called on Congress to pass permanent protections for enrollees in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program after a recent court decision put the program in doubt.

The Fifth Circuit Court released a decision on Oct. 5 holding that the DACA program is unlawful, sending the case back to a lower Texas court to decide whether the program can continue in its current form. Considering that the lower court previously ruled against DACA and the conservative makeup of the Supreme Court, advocates worry that an impending end to the program will send waves through the higher education world.

A June analysis from FWD.us found that of the 611,000 DACA recipients, less than15% (~90,000) are currently enrolled in college. About half (47%) of all DACA recipients have at least some college education.

Advocacy groups tied to higher education expressed dismay over the court decision, as well as disappointment that Congress has not acted sooner to codify the program into law.

“Of the 611,000 DACA recipients, less than15% (~90,000) are currently enrolled in college. About half (47%) of all DACA recipients have at least some college education.”

Former President Barack Obama instituted DACA 10 years ago, and a regulatory version of the program issued by President Joe Biden will go into effect Oct. 31. Those regulations mirror Obama's executive order, so advocates say it is unlikely that the Texas judge will rule differently with the new regulation.

The President's Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration released a joint letter from over 550 higher education leaders calling for congressional action. Cezanne Hayden-Dyer, a DACA recipient and project associate at the Presidents' Alliance, said in a statement that without action, DACA-eligible people remain in limbo.

"DACA was supposed to be a temporary solution until permanent legislation could be enacted," Hayden-Dyer said. "It has been 10 years since DACA was first implemented, and we are still waiting. Our futures are on the line and it is beyond time for Congress to act."

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education (ACE), shared a similar sentiment.

"These talented young individuals are Americans in every way but legal status. Most have only known this country as their home. They attend our colleges and universities, they work and pay taxes, and they serve in the military," he said in a statement. "This unacceptable legal and political limbo must stop. Congress must finally act, and it must do so now. To do anything else is morally unthinkable."

“These talented young individuals are Americans in every way but legal status. Most have only known this country as their home. They attend our colleges and universities, they work and pay taxes, and they serve in the military.”
— Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education

Esther Brimmer, CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, said in a statement that Congress should pass the Dream Act to give DACA recipients a path to citizenship.

In the meantime, some college systems have said they intend to continue to support their undocumented and DACA students. Officials from the California Community Colleges, California State University, and University of California systems released a joint statement following the court decision.

The statement said the university systems are working with elected officials and advocating for permanent citizenship pathways so undocumented Californians can pursue higher education.

"We stand by our students, faculty, and staff. They are vital and valued members of our campus communities," the statement read. "Our systems are dedicated to the continued success of all our undocumented students, many of whom do not participate in DACA."

Undocumented and DACA students can enroll and stay enrolled in California's public colleges and universities, the statement concluded.