Led by New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, Senate Democrats sent a scathing letter to Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, criticizing her for clarifying that illegal alien college students are not eligible for financial aid provided under the $2 trillion stimulus package. House Democrats sent a similar letter attacking Secretary DeVos’s decision, led by Rep. Eric Swalwell of California.
The CARES Act – Congress’s $2 trillion spending bill – gave the Department of Education $6 billion to disperse to colleges and universities to assist students who needed urgent relief. These institutions then asked for clarification from Secretary DeVos, unsure of which students were eligible for the funding. Secretary DeVos provided guidance which barred funding from going to illegal aliens in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) amnesty program. Specifically, Secretary DeVos specified that only students eligible for federal financial aid were eligible to receive stimulus funding. Current law does not allow illegal aliens to receive federal financial aid for education.
The Democrat Senators and Representatives argued that the Education Department went beyond the CARES Act text to make this change, claiming that nothing in the bill prohibited DACA students from receiving education aid and that the section was not written to provide aid only to those eligible for federal loans. The senators specifically charged that “The Department cannot project a specific prohibition from one section of the law to an unrelated and independent section of the law where Congress made no such prohibition.”
Angela Morabito, an Education Department spokesperson, released a statement to Politico blasting the Democrats’s letters as ridiculous, saying that “it is absurd that Democrats want to send U.S. taxpayer money to noncitizens, especially given how many American students are in need of this emergency relief. Colleges and universities have the freedom to help their DACA students, they just cannot use U.S. federal taxpayer dollars in order to do so.”
The CARES Act did not explicitly ban DACA students from receiving educational aid, but it did not specifically include them, either. Other sections of the bill made clear that illegal aliens could not benefit from stimulus money. The bill’s text barred illegal aliens from receiving individual “recovery rebate” checks of up to $1,200, clearly defining that only American citizens and legal immigrants received aid.
These letters may indicate a change in strategy for Democrats as lawmakers approach the next round of stimulus talks. House Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) may decide to take a harder approach in negotiations with the GOP when it comes to illegal aliens. Democrat-aligned groups like the Center for American Progress continue to demand that Congress include illegal aliens in the next spending bill. These letters show that Democrats may choose to pursue a more aggressive strategy in the talks and fight for illegal aliens to receive stimulus funds in the next bill.