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The Kathryn W. Davis Global Education Center at Palm Beach State College (Florida) holds an information session on deferred action for immigrant students and community members.
Photo: Palm Beach State College
A new federal policy expanding the rights of certain undocumented youths could lead to increased enrollment at some community colleges.The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced Aug. 15 that it will begin accepting requests for consideration of “deferred action” for certain eligible youths who came to the U.S. as children. If their applications are approved, those youths won’t have to worry about being deported for two years and will be able to apply for work permits. To qualify, immigrants must demonstrate that they:• came to the U.S. when they were under age 16. • are not over age 30. • have continuously resided in the U.S. for a least five years. • are currently in school, have graduated from high school, or are honorably discharged from the U.S. military. • have not been convicted of a felony, significant or more than three misdemeanors, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.Deferred action is “a very important issue for community colleges,” said Jill Casner-Lotto, director of the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education (CCCIE). “This has the potential to increase inquiries, if not enrollment, in community colleges.”Young people approved for deferred action will be better able to get jobs and thus, be better able to pay for college, Casner-Lotto said. “We think it’s a very encouraging development.”The Houston Community College District in Texas, which estimates it served 1,000 undocumented students in 2011, expects an increase in enrollment, including increases in GED and English as a second language programs, said Diana Pino, vice chancellor for student services.Not the Dream ActThere are caveats to the new policy, Casner-Lotto noted.
“It’s not the Dream Act. It’s not a pathway to legal status or citizenship, and individuals will have to reapply every two years,” she said. While USCIS said it will not notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about applicants for deferred action, “there is still general concern that if people come forward with information, the government will have that information,” Casner-Lotto said.
In addition, the policy doesn't automatically extend to parents and siblings, which will cause some trepidation. And it could be overturned, depending on the results of the upcoming election, Casner-Lotto said.
“All that being said, though, we’re very encouraged,” she added.CCCIE produced a one-page toolkit with a list of steps community colleges can take to support youths applying for deferred action, including:• Train all key staff in admissions, registrar, financial aid and counseling offices.• Facilitate connections between student clubs and local immigrant advocacy organizations.• Meet with leaders of community groups that serve immigrants and invite students to participate. Westchester Community College (New York), where CCCIE is based, worked with community organizations, immigration attorneys and legal justice coordinators to sponsor an information session on deferred action in July for students, parents and the public. To avoid confusion, the college and about a dozen organizations collaborated on a single document, featuring all of the group’s logos, with answers to frequently asked questions. In-state tuitionOne critical issue so far unresolved is whether students approved for deferred action could be eligible for in-state tuition rates. That would vary widely among states. In Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer has taken a hard line against undocumented individuals, that’s not likely to happen any time soon. Brewer issued an executive order declaring anyone approved for deferred action ineligible for any “taxpayer-funded public benefit,” including driver’s licenses. The mayors of Tucson and Phoenix, however, released statements calling for youths who apply for deferred action to pay the in-state rate. In Florida, there’s at least a possibility that students granted deferred action could eventually be eligible for in-state tuition, suggested Rolando Montoya, provost of Miami Dade College (MDC).“Although this is not giving them permanent residency status or citizenship, at least if they are approved for deferred action, they are getting what lawyers call ‘legal presence,’ and that means they might be considered legal residents of Florida,” Montoya said. Whether that means they might be charged in the in-state tuition rate, “we’ll have to wait and see,” he said.Even without changes in the tuition structure, Montoya expects an enrollment increase.
“The fact that they can also apply for job permits may help them get better-paying jobs, and they will be better able to afford college,” he said. Also, “some undocumented students are scared to register because they are suspicious of being on public databases. Many of the ones who are in the shadows may come out and apply for college.” MDC is partnering with the campus group Students for Human Rights along with external organizations to conduct clinics to help eligible students apply for deferred action and job permits. The filing fee for deferred action is $465.It’s crucial that they fill out the forms correctly, according to college officials.
“They really cannot make any mistakes. There is no appeals process. If they are rejected, there is no way they can apply again,” Montoya said.
“This is not perfect. It’s not a permanent solution,” he added. “But it is nice progress in the right direction. We’ve been fighting for this for so many years.”
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