College Administrators, Students Need to Know Ins and Outs of DACA

How many colleges have administrators who simply don’t know all the ins and outs of the law when it comes to the federal policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, aka DACA?

You don’t want to be like Loma Linda University, a private religious college in San Bernardino, California.

In April, it admitted Veronica Velasquez, 23, into their graduate program for physical therapy.

But eight days later, Loma Linda University sent a very different note saying Velasquez could not enroll because of her immigration status.

Velasquez, who came to the United States from the Philippines as a child, does not have permanent resident status. But as a senior majoring in kinesiology at Cal State San Bernardino, she knew she was protected by DACA. When her application for graduate school was rejected she went to the ACLU of Southern California.

Lawyers there knew the law.

“Loma Linda University’s policy is not only ill-advised, but also unlawful,” said Katie Traverso, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, in a press statement. “Federal civil rights law makes it clear that Loma Linda University can’t discriminate against students based on their immigration status.”

The actual nine-page letter spells it out specifically: “Excluding students like Veronica Velasquez from LLU simply because they have been granted deferred action under DACA discriminates based on alienage in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.”

But the university had another excuse. In an email to Velasquez, the university claimed that DACA students are prohibited from obtaining professional licenses and would have difficulty obtaining financial aid.

The ACLU pointed, however, to a new law in California, effective last January, which requires licensing boards to consider applicants regardless of immigrations status.

“Whether or not a student can easily afford to enroll should not preclude Loma Linda University from opening its doors to qualified students,” according to a news statement from the ACLU.

The ACLU asked the university to reconsider its “unlawful DACA policy” immediately and to refund a $40 application fee, $350 deposit and a $42.95 fee for a required criminal background check.

In a letter back to the ACLU, Kent Hansen, the university’s general counsel, was contrite.

“We regret that mistake and apologize,” Hansen wrote in an excerpt published in the media. “We immediately rectified the situation and communicated that to [Velazquez].We are also reviewing our applications and acceptances to correct any other instance of this problem that may have occurred.”

Nice when your “act of good will” is required by law.

Still, there’s no way to know how many others are out there who may have been rejected unfairly.

Not all students are aware of their basic DACA rights. Considering the courage it takes to speak out and come forward, the number of wrongful rejections is probably greater than we think. It’s a formula for disaster: the fear among the undocumented. The ignorance of the institution. The negation of a much-needed remedy called DACA.

That’s why it’s important that institutions remember the mistake of Loma Linda University and pay heed to its promise. The school says it’s going to be more proactive to make sure there’s no question when it comes to fairly applying the law. Easier said than done?

We will see.

As for our student, she’s graduating this month from Cal State San Bernardino. And, with the assurance and protection of DACA, she is going to another private university for graduate school in the fall.

Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator. He blogs at http://www.aaldef.org/blog and can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/emilamok.