With Scotus Daca Ruling Imminent, CUNY Redoubles Long-Standing Commitment to Undocumented Students

With Scotus Daca Ruling Imminent, CUNY Redoubles Long-Standing Commitment to Undocumented Students

Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund prioritizes undocumented students after CARES Act excludes them from relief grants

Robin Hood commits $500,000; NY Community Trust $200,000 to increase number of students receiving grants

June 17, 2020

The City University of New York is redoubling efforts to provide financial and legal support to thousands of undocumented students, whose lives would be drastically changed if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the legality of ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the policy that grants undocumented young adults the right to live, work and attend school in the U.S.

“CUNY is committed to the future of undocumented students on our campuses, and we pledge to do whatever it takes to ensure these students have the resources they need to continue their education and weather these difficult times amid the fear and uncertainty created by the Trump administration,” said CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “This isn’t a political issue for CUNY — it’s personal. DACA students are our friends and neighbors; they are essential workers keeping our economy going, doctors and medical students on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19. They are part of the CUNY family — and family takes care of family.”

After the Trump administration excluded undocumented students from emergency financial relief disbursed to college students under the federal CARES Act, undocumented students were prioritized for grants from the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund, created this spring to help students manage the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Because of this action, more than 1,400 CUNY undocumented students, or 70% of the latest round of 2,000 awards, received emergency grants of $500 apiece. Future disbursements of the fund will continue to give priority to undocumented students.

Chancellor Matos Rodríguez has also secured two additional gifts totaling $700,000 to increase by another 1,400 the number of undocumented students receiving grants. The poverty-fighting organization Robin Hood announced a generous donation of $500,000 and The New York Community Trust, which provides solutions to community issues through grantmaking, added $200,000.

“We at Robin Hood remain dedicated to supporting those impacted by this unprecedented pandemic and left out of government assistance, including the remarkable undocumented students at CUNY,” said Wes Moore, CEO of Robin Hood. “Education is critical to economic mobility, and Robin Hood is proud to stand alongside CUNY which has acted as a springboard for so many New Yorkers who are working hard to open the door of opportunity for themselves and their families.”

“Undocumented workers and their families — including many who are CUNY students — are keeping our city going in this pandemic and yet were excluded from federal stimulus and other benefit programs,” said Shawn Morehead, vice president for grants at The New York Community Trust. We are pleased to work with CUNY to get money in the hands of the city’s undocumented students to keep them housed, fed and able to continue their studies. They are and will continue to be an important part of what makes New York a great city.”

As the Chancellor described in an opinion column published in Monday’s Daily News, the University is taking the following additional steps to protect and sustain undocumented students:

  • • If SCOTUS rules that the Trump administration can legally terminate DACA, advocates expect that those with DACA status would continue to be protected until their authorization expires. CUNY is therefore advising students to renew their DACA status now. CUNY Citizenship Now!, the nation’s largest university legal assistance program, can provide free assistance with DACA status renewals. To cover the renewal fees, CUNY has secured $25,000 from an anonymous donor.
  • • Chancellor Matos Rodríguez has directed CUNY college presidents to appoint two Immigrant Student Success liaisons per campus, to ensure the needs of undocumented students are being met and they know the full range of services that are available to them.
  • • Undocumented students will continue to be eligible to receive financial aid from the state under the New York State José Peralta DREAM Act. The groundbreaking law, enacted last year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature, was named for the late New York state senator and Queens College alumnus.

CUNY is also well represented in the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on the legality of DACA, with five current and former students serving as co-plaintiffs in the consolidated cases that are before the court.

Two-time CUNY graduate Antonio Alarcón, along with current CUNY School of Law student Carlos Vargas, Hunter College graduate Carolina Fung Feng and two other former CUNY students, are co-plaintiffs. Their futures – along with those of nearly 700,000 other DACA participants nationwide – hang in the balance.

Alarcón, who graduated from LaGuardia Community College in 2015 and Queens College in 2019, will deliver the keynote address at LaGuardia’s virtual commencement celebration on June 16.

After moving from Mexico to New York with his family when he was 10, Alarcón thrived in city public schools. He later found a home at CUNY, which has long offered a welcoming and supportive environment for undocumented students.

“I want to talk about hope,” Alarcón says of his remarks, “so that students know they have to fight for what they believe in.”

• • • •

The City University of New York is the nation’s largest urban public university, a transformative engine of social mobility that is a critical component of the lifeblood of New York City. Founded in 1847 as the nation’s first free public institution of higher education, CUNY today has seven community colleges, 11 senior colleges and seven graduate or professional institutions spread across New York City’s five boroughs, serving 500,000 students of all ages and awarding 55,000 degrees each year. CUNY’s mix of quality and affordability propels almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all the Ivy League colleges combined. More than 80 percent of the University’s graduates stay in New York, contributing to all aspects of the city’s economic, civic and cultural life and diversifying the city’s workforce in every sector. CUNY’s graduates and faculty have received many prestigious honors, including 13 Nobel Prizes and 26 MacArthur “Genius” Grants. The University’s historic mission continues to this day: provide a first-rate public education to all students, regardless of means or background.


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