- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2020

California community colleges are suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for barring emergency stimulus funds from students who are ineligible for federal financial aid, including hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants and asylum applicants.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Monday filed the request for an injunction against Mrs. DeVos‘ action in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco.

The lawsuit argues that Congress did not explicitly stipulate eligibility rules in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which allocated more than $6 billion in emergency grants to be distributed by colleges and universities to students harmed by the pandemic.

Mr. Becerra says that by limiting emergency dollars only to students eligible for federal financial aid, Ms. DeVos is creating a stricture never spelled out by Congress, which made the funds available to help students with housing, meals and other costs associated with the loss of on-campus learning.

“As a result, many students who may be most in need of relief will be deprived of assistance during this public health crisis, including non-citizens who are DACA recipients, Temporary Protected Status recipients, and asylum applicants, as well as substantial numbers of U.S. citizens in the California community college system,” the 37-page lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs include the state’s chancellor of community colleges, a governing board and five school districts. They say that, under rules Ms. DeVos has imposed, nearly 800,000 students are ineligible for emergency relief passed by Congress. Many students, they add, need extra help paying for internet, laptops and food.

More than 1.5 million students attended classes this spring — either on campus or remotely — in the California Community College system.

Education Department press secretary Angela Morabito told The Washington Times that the agency does not comment on pending litigation, but “there is no persuasive legal support for the proposition that Congress intended the CARES Act to create an entitlement for DACA recipients and others who are otherwise ineligible for federal public benefits.”

DACA is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows immigrants who were brought into the U.S. illegally as children to receive a renewable, two-year deferment from being deported.

Ms. Morabito said Congress tied emergency relief to funding under Title IV of the Higher Education Act.

Under federal guidelines, students who do not possess a Social Security number, have been convicted of a drug offense, failed to register for Selective Service, or have defaulted on a loan are ineligible for Title IV funds, which include direct loans, Pell grants and Perkins loans.

In a “Q&A” letter last month, the Education Department spelled out which aid would not go to noncitizens.

In an interview with Greta Van Susteren’s online show, “Full Court Press,” Mrs. DeVos said that Congress dictated the eligibility terms for the emergency financial aid for students.

“I’m here to follow the law,” the education secretary said. “Congress had the opportunity to write the law in a different way, and they chose not to.”

The lawsuit says the Education Department initially appeared to allow for aid to go to students regardless of Title IV eligibility, but then changed its position.

The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund portion of the CARES Act specifies that schools receive funds commiserate with the number of its students who are eligible for federal aid funding. But the law does not mention eligibility of noncitizen students, such as DACA recipients.

“It is absurd that special interests want the Department to fabricate a basis to send U.S. taxpayer money to noncitizen, especially given how many American students are in need of this emergency relief,” Ms. Morabito said in a written statement.

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