The top Republican on the House education committee on Monday blasted President Biden‘s plan to give college tuition aid to “Dreamers,” reversing a longstanding policy of barring noncitizens from receiving taxpayers’ aid.
Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina said it is unfair to U.S. citizens for Mr. Biden to offer nearly $7,000 a year in federal Pell Grants to Dreamers, who were brought into the U.S. illegally as children.
It would “take opportunities away from American students,” said Mrs. Foxx, the ranking Republican on the Education and Labor Committee. “Biden needs a reality check. Giving handouts for illegal aliens to pursue taxpayer-funded education flies in the face of his concern for the student debt crisis in this country.”
She reasoned that allowing Dreamers to receive college grants for people with low incomes would take money away from American citizens, forcing them to borrow money to get an education. Helping more Dreamers go to college also would take spaces in classrooms that would otherwise go to Americans.
Supporters of Mr. Biden‘s plan argue that Dreamers are in the country illegally through no fault of their own, grew up as Americans, and deserve the same access to higher educations as U.S. citizens.
Mr. Biden‘s Pell Grants for Dreamers is contained in the $1.5 trillion discretionary budget he submitted on Friday. It comes as a surge of migrants, including more than 16,000 unaccompanied children, is forcing illegal immigration to the forefront of political debate.
The Biden plan would create an exemption from a federal policy prohibiting those who are not American citizens from being able to get taxpayers’ aid.
“This is a terrible precedent. It offers this already-privileged group of illegal aliens access to limited funds for higher education,” said Jessica M. Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a group seeking strong measures against illegal immigration.
Dreamers are already given preference over other undocumented immigrants because they are not subject to deportation under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, an Obama-era policy that also makes Dreamers eligible for green cards to legally work in the U.S.
Former President Donald Trump attempted to phase out DACA, but Mr. Biden fully reinstated it with an executive order on his first day in office.
Ms. Vaughn said that making life easier for Dreamers by offering them Pell Grants also reduces the urgency for Congress to tackle an overhaul of immigration laws.
“If President Biden wants DACA beneficiaries to have access to federal scholarships, and end their legal limbo status, then he should work with Congress to pass an amnesty bill to make them lawful permanent residents,” she said. “Not create dubious exceptions to program rules.”
The Democratic majority on the House education panel backed letting those in the DACA program get the federal money last year. Others applauded the move on Monday. “It’s the right thing to do,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government relations and public affairs for the American Council on Education, the umbrella lobbying group for the nation’s colleges and universities.
“Dreamers contribute in many ways to our country and are Americans in every way but their immigration status. They pay taxes, are members of the military, and many of them are on the front lines battling COVID-19,” he said.
Pell Grants are viewed as critical for providing access to higher education for low-income students. The National College Attainment Network, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, estimates that even when Pell and other grants, federal work-study, summer wages and help from students’ families are counted, only 25% of four-year public colleges and universities are affordable to low-income students.
The group is pushing for Mr. Biden and Congress to double the maximum $6,495 Pell Grant students can now receive. The group said the $400 increase Biden proposed in last week’s request is a good start.
Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy for the National College Attainment Network, views Dreamers as being in a different category than other immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.
“These are people who have graduated from schools in our community. They’re part of our communities and deserve a chance to get an education,” she said.
Juliana Macedo do Nascimento, senior advocacy manager for United We Dream, the main advocacy group for Dreamers, also praised the proposal.
“We celebrate the inclusion of DACA recipients in Pell Grants and we recognize the administration’s commitment to undocumented students,” he said.
Whether the government should help Dreamers go to college has long been a hot-button issue. Betsy DeVos, the education secretary under Mr. Trump, drew fire when she denied Dreamers eligibility for emergency grants for college housing and other needs that were part of last year’s coronavirus relief packages.
Mrs. DeVos cited the prohibition on giving aid to noncitizens. California’s community college system and Washington’s Democratic attorney general challenged the decision last year. Federal judges issued injunctions blocking the denial of aid to Dreamers in those states.
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