House Dems want to give DACA college students financial aid

A new appropriations bill would allow undocumented students that meet certain qualifications to access Federal Student Aid for the first time.

Expanding the Pell Grant program to DACA students could cost $950 billion per year, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

House Democrats are advancing a bill that would allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students to receive federal student loans and Pell Grants for the first time. 

The bill would also make DACA students eligible for federal work-study, which subsidizes part-time jobs for college students using federal taxpayer funds. 

H.R. 4502, which covers appropriations for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, contains a provision to make DACA students and students with Temporary Protected Status eligible for Federal Student Aid. 

Under current law, students who came to the U.S. illegally or were brought here illegally are not eligible for federal aid. Federal aid is restricted to U.S. citizens and certain noncitizens, such as permanent residents, refugees, and asylees, who meet certain criteria.

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The financial impact of expanded federal loan access is hard to measure, given the lack of sound estimates on how this new bill may influence more DACA students to pursue college. While, in theory, a lender would turn a profit on loans, this is likely not the case for Federal Student Aid. The Biden administration projects that Federal Student Aid will lose $68 billion over the long term due to loans that are never repaid, per the Wall Street Journal

Spencer Raley, Director of Research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, told Campus Reform that Pell grants for DACA students is likely to cost almost a billion dollars annually. 

Raley said, “According to recent estimates by MPI and the NAE, there are roughly 215,000-240,000 DACA-eligible students” in undergraduate college programs right now. 

Based on FAIR’s 2017 Fiscal Cost Study,” he said, “the vast majority of these hold an income profile that makes them eligible for Pell Grants. And finally, with the average Pell Grant coming out to $4,418 according to the NCES, that means affording DACA-eligible individuals access to federal Pell grants could cost American taxpayers up to $950 million every year.”

Raley says that the proposal is unfair to U.S. citizens, particularly in light of the high cost of college. “During a time when so many young Americans are struggling to afford a college education, it doesn’t make sense to expand eligibility for these programs to illegal immigrants,” he said. 

[RELATED: Immigration experts: In-state tuition for illegal aliens violates Clinton-era federal law]

The future of DACA is uncertain now that a federal court ruled that the program is unconstitutional. The court has ordered the Biden administration to stop certifying new DACA applications, though the White House has pledged to appeal the ruling. 

The ruling does not affect the status of current DACA recipients.  

The House Appropriations Committee expects the bill be considered by the House next week. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AngelaLMorabito