Federal Relations

By Cynthia Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU

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DACA Is Rescinded

One of our biggest worries came to fruition last week, when President Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The DACA program, initiated by President Obama in 2012, protects students who entered the United States as children, with their parents. These undocumented students are classified as Dreamers because they meet the requirements of the “Dream Act,” proposed legislation that would give these students or graduates a path to citizenship (DACA only extended their stay in the country for two-year intervals). President Trump punted DACA to Congress, giving the House and Senate six months to resolve the issue before the proposed March 2018 deadline for a full rescission of DACA.

Shortly after the announcement of the rescission, AJCU issued a statement expressing deep dismay over the Administration’s decision to strip the nation’s 800,000 Dreamers of their DACA status. The full statement can be found here on the AJCU website. The American Council on Education also issued a statement, as did the presidents of 26 U.S. Jesuit colleges and universities.

Nearly 800,000 students and young professionals across the country will be affected by the DACA rescission; they are uncertain of their status and whether the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will deport them to their country of origin. Residents in medical school would be particularly affected as they have taken out substantial loans to attend medical school and are dependent on the DACA work agreement. Jesuit institutions have been particularly supportive of Dreamers by giving them scholarships and financial support to attend college.

There is a concerted effort under way to push for passage of the Dream Act through Congress. Sixteen years ago, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Dream Act, which later failed to pass through the Senate (it was shy of just five votes). Senator Durbin (a graduate of Georgetown University) recently hosted DACA students from Georgetown and met with students from Loyola University Chicago.

On September 13th, President Trump hosted a dinner for the Democratic leaders of Congress, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), to discuss the future of DACA. Although the reports concerning a potential deal are unclear, we are hopeful that it may signal a potential agreement that Congress may consider in the coming weeks. In addition, Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are co-sponsoring a companion piece in the Senate: S.1808. Seeking passage of DACA and the Dream Act is a high priority for AJCU; we will work on this until our DACA students are protected.

Perkins Loan Program Set to Expire on September 30th

It is bad enough that DACA is to be rescinded but the Perkins loan program is set to expire at the end of this month as well. In December 2015, the Perkins Loan Extension Act, H.R. 3594, extended the undergraduate program for two years. Unfortunately, the graduate Perkins loan program expired in December 2016; without reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), the undergraduate program may not be renewed after September 30th.

Efforts are being led by Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), John Duncan (R-TN), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) to extend the undergraduate program. House bill H.R. 2482, re-introduced by Representatives Stefanik and Pocan in this session of the 115th U.S. Congress, has 187 bipartisan co-sponsors thus far, which indicates strong support for continuing the program.

Currently, nearly 500,000 students across the country utilize the Perkins loan program. Sixty-seven percent of Perkins loan recipients are dependent students from families whose incomes are $30,000 or below, and twenty percent of recipients are independent students with incomes of $20,000 or below. The Perkins loan program has been in existence for five decades, and has provided financial support for hundreds of thousands of American students to obtain their college degrees.

AJCU Federal Relations activities have included working on the Perkins loan extension for many years. All Jesuit institutions are encouraged to contact their members of Congress to save this vital loan program for needy students.