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Law360 (April 22, 2020, 10:44 PM EDT) -- The U.S. Department of Education has barred undocumented students, including those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, from accessing a $6 billion fund created to help students pay for food, housing and health care amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Students eligible for federal financial aid can draw from the $6.28 billion Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund set up by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the DOE said in a policy guidance released Tuesday.
But under DOE policy, only U.S. citizens and some green card holders can qualify for federal financial aid.
DACA recipients and unauthorized immigrant students are ineligible for federal aid, according to February 2019 guidance from the DOE, and the department's press secretary Angela Morabito defended the restriction in a Wednesday statement, saying "The CARES Act makes clear that this taxpayer-funded relief fund should be targeted to U.S. citizens, which is consistently echoed throughout the law."
DOE Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that the department was distributing the multibillion relief grants to colleges and universities on April 9. In turn, the higher education institutions would provide the cash directly to students.
DeVos explained the fund was set up to give students a financial cushion so that the novel coronavirus, which has ground nonessential public life to a halt, wouldn't also disrupt their education.
Her announcement didn't mention whether unauthorized immigrant students could access the emergency funding.
Association of American Colleges & Universities President Lynn Pasquerella told Law360 that the exclusion could cut short these students' college lives.
"We have learned from this [coronavirus] crisis the extent to which ... students across the country are facing food and shelter insecurities, and undocumented students are at greater risk," she said.
TheDream.US, an organization that provides scholarships to DACA recipients, released a report late March finding that during the coronavirus emergency, 65% of its own scholars needed help to cover rent or pay for utilities, and 48% needed help to buy food.
The organization's president, Candy Marshall, explained to Law360 that many of the scholars are breadwinners for their families who may not all be authorized to work in the U.S.
Since the outbreak, 80% of the 76% of working scholars have reported income loss due to reduced hours, or have lost jobs, according to the organization's report.
"We very much hoped that the funds would be available for the students," Marshall said.
Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PC immigration practice chair Susan Cohen said Wednesday that the DOE didn't need to carve out unauthorized immigrant students from the relief fund.
"It strikes me as a quite cruel move," she said.
--Editing by Adam LoBelia.
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