Dems to Obama: End citizenship rule for education programs
By Mike Lillis
More than 100 House Democrats are pushing President Obama to expand federal education benefits to young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
In a letter sent to the president Tuesday, the lawmakers say the hundreds of thousands of people enrolled in Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative should also be eligible for federal programs designed to assist disadvantaged students.
Led by Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) and Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), the Democrats want Obama to tweak Department of Education guidelines to make DACA students newly eligible for federal TRIO programs, a series of grant-based initiatives that provide special benefits to low-income, rural, disabled and other vulnerable kids.
The current rules, which limit eligibility to U.S. citizens, are depriving the DACA students of "life-changing services," the Democrats argue.
"Federal TRIO Programs across the country, including those in our congressional districts, regularly turn away students because of their immigration status," the lawmakers wrote. "Even though many students now have access to in-state tuition rates, they are unable to participate in the programs designed to enable and encourage their success."
The Democrats are urging Obama to act unilaterally, arguing that the six-year-old citizenship rule was established by the Education Department, and can therefore be undone with a similar administrative action.
"The citizenship requirement is solely the result of Department of Education regulations and is not a requirement in statute," the lawmakers wrote. "We write to encourage you to take swift action, through whatever means available to you, to eliminate the citizenship requirement for TRIO and expand the program to beneficiaries of DACA."
The letter was endorsed by more than 110 House Democrats, including Reps. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus; Joe Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the caucus; Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), head of the Democratic National Committee; Bobby Scott (Va.), senior Democrat on the House education committee; and Linda Sanchez (Calif.), head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
The federal TRIO program was founded in 1964 with the launch of Upward Bound, which provides tutoring, counseling and other benefits to low-income high school students and those from families in which neither parent has a college degree. TRIO has since expanded to eight programs benefiting roughly 800,000 kids, from middle school through college.
The Democrats' request to expand TRIO eligibility comes amid an election season when both parties are trying to court the ever-growing Hispanic vote, with Obama's immigration executive actions are at the center of the debate.
Adopted in 2012, the DACA program halts deportations and provides two-year work visas to high-achieving illegal immigrants brought to the country before the age of 16.
In November of 2014, Obama expanded the eligibility of DACA, while creating a separate initiative to provide the same protections to the parents of U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents.
All told, the programs could defer deportation for as many as 5 million people.
Texas and 25 other states quickly challenged the legality of the unilateral actions, arguing that they constitute a case of executive overreach. Last year, a federal judge halted the two 2014 programs, and the case has risen to the Supreme Court, which is expected to announce its ruling before the end of the month.