Biden Will Allow Undocumented Students To Access Pandemic ReliefRoundup
tags: immigration, Joe Biden, COVID-19, undocumented immigrants
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona recently announced that undocumented and international college students will now be able to receive pandemic relief grants. This announcement reverses a Trump administration policy that narrowed eligibility for the $35 billion in emergency aid that Congress authorized over the last 18 months for students facing housing, employment and food insecurity. The Trump administration had barred these two groups from receiving aid, a policy choice that affected undocumented students across the nation.
Basic needs insecurity has been shown to be a significant factor in a student’s success, and nearly three in five students experienced some form of basic needs insecurity this past year. The Biden administration’s commitment to providing all students with needed assistance is an important step to making sure all can get back on track and expanding access to the American Dream in the wake of the pandemic.
Yet, this policy shift represents only the most recent skirmish in a 40-year battle over who has access to public education and the social safety net, including questions about where undocumented immigrants fit in our society. Students have often been at the forefront of this battle, and the Biden administration’s announcement signals an important reversal in a decades-long erosion of rights for undocumented students.
By the mid-20th century, the United States had an expansive social safety net. From their establishment during the New Deal, programs like Social Security and unemployment insurance had few restrictions on immigrants, and no federal law barred noncitizens from eligibility. When new programs like Medicaid were created in 1965, the same eligibility rules applied. That is, immigrants had access to most programs, regardless of their status.
The same was true of public education. Public schools had long been understood as an engine of immigrant assimilation, and by the time of the Great Society in the mid-1960s, access to integrated, funded public schools was understood to be a key component of American life.
Simultaneously, heading into the 1970s, questions were arising about whether the United States had become too generous, with its expanded welfare state and a variety of new benefits. This coincided with shifts in immigration policy and geopolitics that increased immigration for the first time since the early part of the century.
Activists who sought to limit or curtail immigration, particularly of people of color, recognized that open racism and nativism had become less tolerated in public discourse in the aftermath of the civil rights movement.
In the 1970s, therefore, they pivoted their strategy and attacked immigrants’ access to education and the social safety net, suggesting that outsiders were taking from deserving Americans and that they unduly burdened the nation. Anti-immigrant activists began to pass state laws and bring litigation to limit access to public services and benefits on the basis of immigration status, pushing for deeper distinctions between citizens and noncitizens.
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