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'Cruel and Outrageous': DeVos Blocks Undocumented Students From Receiving Coronavirus Emergency Aid

"This is what [it's] like to be an immigrant under Trump."

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unveiled new guidance Tuesday which excludes undocumented students from receiving emergncy assistance through a new $6 billion program for college students amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unveiled new guidance Tuesday which excludes undocumented students from receiving emergncy assistance through a new $6 billion program for college students amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Immigrant rights groups on Wednesday condemned the Trump administration's decision to block undocumented students from a $6 billion aid program that the Education Department unveiled earlier this month, calling the exclusion needlessly "cruel."

To supplement $14 billion included in the CARES Act last month for postsecondary institutions and students, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released $6.2 billion for cash grants for students whose lives and educations have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The program, called the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), is meant to be used for necessities like housing, food, and childcare.

On Tuesday, however, DeVos announced that students who are not eligible for federal financial aid for college will not be permitted to access the money.

"The criteria to participate," the Education Department wrote in a new guidance (pdf), "include but are not limited to the following: U.S. citizenship or eligible noncitizen; a valid Social Security number; registration with Selective Service (if the student is male); and a high school diploma, GED, or completion of high school in an approved homeschool setting." 

Undocumented students who are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, also known as Dreamers, are not eligible for most federal financial aid. 

Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, called the move "cruel and outrageous."

As Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) wrote on Twitter, the CARES Act does not include restrictions on which students can access aid.

An estimated 14 million students were forced to leave their college campuses and shift to remote learning last month as governments imposed lockdowns and schools closed. Many returned home to stay with their families.

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According to a 2019 survey by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University, nearly one-third of students at four-year colleges experience housing and food insecurity. The same is true for about half of students at two-year institutions.

The Education Department's new rule was issued two months before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hand down a ruling on whether the DACA program should continue. 

As Cristina Jimenez, co-founder of youth-led immigrant rights group United We Dream, wrote on social media, DeVos's guidance is just one of several attacks on immigrants by the Trump administration since the coronavirus pandemic began.

"This is what [it's] like to be an immigrant under Trump," Jimenez said.

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