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What could the rescission of DACA in the US mean for international education?

DREAMers, undocumented students in the United States, just might become international students —at least in Canada. While hopes of a reprieve for DACA floated this week, Canadian institutions are using the uncertainty to reach out and offer scholarships.

Canadian institutions are using the uncertainty around DACA to reach out and offer scholarshipsA Los Angeles march for immigrant rights. Photo: flickr/Molly Adams

"Anecdotally, what we are hearing across Canada is that there has been heightened interest since the US election"

Meanwhile, some US HE stakeholders fear the heat around the story further impacts the image of the US for other international students.

On September 5, the Trump administration announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program – launched by the Obama administration in 2012 that allowed for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as children to remain in the country – could be rescinded in six months’ time.

While subsequent news reports suggest a deal with the Democrats could be reached to protect those under threat of deportation, the shock announcement prompted staunch opposition from US higher education stakeholders and soul searching about what might happen to those in the DACA program (which guarantees delayed action on deportation and therefore security).

Over 130 colleges and universities have issued statements of support for DACA beneficiaries.

Such undocumented students, brought into the US as children ‘illegally’, are known widely as DREAMers, named after the DREAM Act that was introduced but never passed – the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (Dream) Act, which would have offered them the chance of permanent legal residency.

The day after President Trump announced his plans to end the DACA program, on September 6, 2017, Huron University College in Ontario, Canada, announced that it would offer a $60,000 scholarship to any academically eligible student affected.

Approximately 10 students affected by the rescission of the DACA program have inquired about the scholarship

Barry Craig, principal of Huron University College, says that like many leaders in North American higher education, he was “troubled” when he heard that the Trump administration was considering cancelling DACA.

“I wanted to do something more than simply voice protest,” Craig says. “As the next door neighbour to the US and a place that has a reputation of being welcome and tolerant, I thought that some affected by the DACA decision might look to Canada for help. This scholarship seemed like a concrete way to respond to these people in need.”

Undocumented students from the US who want to try to take advantage of the Huron University College scholarship will need to obtain a student visa for study in Canada. Craig says that his institution will guide prospective students through appropriate channels to obtain a student visa.

So, far, he says approximately 10 students affected by the rescission of the DACA program have inquired about the scholarship. The scholarship offers $15,000 per year for four years of study, totalling $60,000, which would cover about half of tuition. Many international students have jobs on campus to help cover college costs, according to Craig.

If DREAMers can’t stay in the United States, they might consider Canada, as many international students do. “One of the top reasons why international students choose to study in Canada is because of its reputation of being tolerant and non-discriminatory,” says Karen McBride, president and CEO of the Canadian Bureau for International Education.

“Anecdotally, what we are hearing from our members across the country is that there has been a heightened interest in Canadian colleges and universities since the US election.”

President Trump is allowing a six-month window for Congress to act and come up with an alternative to DACA. A new version of the DREAM Act was introduced a bipartisan group of senators in July 2017, which aims to allow DREAMers to become permanent residents.

Approximately 800,000 individuals are registered for the DACA program and are therefore impacted by politicians debating their right to remain in the country they have grown up in.

“We’re talking about a set of young people who really didn’t have an opportunity to make an active choice”

About a quarter of DACA recipients are enrolled in college and 5% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to an August 2017 issue brief by the Migration Policy Institute.

The prospect of deporting DREAMers after their DACA permits expire has been met with disapproval across higher education leaders in the country.

“While there have been diverse responses to the rescission of DACA on college campuses, there is widespread disappointment among higher education leaders regarding the President’s decision,” explains Lynn Pasquerella, president of American Association of Colleges and Universities.

“The result has been a reaffirmation of their commitment to serving DACA students by holding meetings to listen to their concerns, providing a range of support services, encouraging Congress to restore the DREAMer program, and taking on new fundraising campaigns to meet the specific financial needs of students.”

Pasquerella says that there have already been reports of a 40% decline in international students enrolling in colleges and universities across the United States this fall and is concerned.

“International students are weary of potential new restrictive legislation that would have a disparate impact on them and harbor fears over a hostile climate within the US,” she claims.

“This is unfortunate at a time when it is more critical than ever for students to be in diverse learning environments that foster cultural competence, global understanding.”

But the HE community is certainly making its opposition felt. Nicole Tami, executive director of the global education office at the University of New Mexico, tells The PIE News, “We try to be responsive to those on the DACA program. There continues to be a lot of uncertainty for these students, a lot of fear.. We’re doing everything we can to support them.

“Our provost is of international background and has reached out to the community and our overarching message is you are welcome here.”

She adds, “Regardless of what your political stance is on immigration, we’re talking about a set of young people who really didn’t have an opportunity to make an active choice [about their legal status].”

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