Kansas colleges, universities struggle with DACA repeal

A sign is held up by the White House in support of the dreamers and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, program, during a rally in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

? A small technical college in western Kansas has said it will not allow federal immigration officials on campus without a court order.

Ben Schears, president of the Northwest Kansas Technical College in Goodland, said Wednesday that he made that decision after the Trump administration announced it would rescind DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that allowed many young, undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

“We’ve got some students that are DACA students and we took what we consider to be a pretty hard stance, that we would not allow ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on campus without a court order and that we would go to every effort that we could to protect their ability to pursue an education,” Schears said.

Schears spoke during a gathering of state college and university presidents, a routine meeting held in advance of the regular meeting of the Kansas Board of Regents, the state agency that supervises higher education in the state.

He said he sent out an all-campus email Sept. 7, shortly after the decision to rescind DACA was announced, in the hope of easing some of the concerns being expressed.

“I had a couple of students contact me concerned about whether they need to withdraw from classes so they can go back, essentially go back underground. I said no, keep going through your education, and we’ll do everything we can to help make sure you can.

Northwest Kansas Technical College is a small school that had 870 students last year. As many as 28 of them are “nonresident aliens,” according to a Board of Regents demographic report. Of those, however, it is not known how many are undocumented immigrants because some may be international students studying here on student visas.

For many years, Kansas has allowed non-U.S. citizens who grew up in Kansas to attend public colleges and universities here and pay in-state tuition rates, as long as they meet all other qualifications for admission and residency.

Most of those attend two-year community colleges or technical schools, officials said, because tuition and fees there are substantially less than at four-year universities.

But the decision to rescind DACA within a matter of months has rattled all college and university campuses, officials said.

“Systemwide, what I’ve heard from the presidents and institutional CEOs is that they really want a long-term solution,” Regents President and CEO Blake Flanders said. “And we don’t really have a role in that. It’s a federal solution, and that’s what we’re waiting on. What I’ve heard is that maybe there’s some progress being made.”

Law schools at both the University of Kansas and Washburn University have set up clinics to help students and others in the community who will face legal issues if DACA is repealed and not replaced by some other program.

KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said he believes few DACA students are at KU, simply because it’s the most expensive school in the system, and DACA students do not qualify for federal student financial aid.

However, he said the issue often extends beyond students themselves to the entire community, involving family members and close friends of students who may or may not be present in the U.S. legally.

Washburn University President Jerry Farley said there may be as many as 15 DACA students on that campus in Topeka, and he has already heard from a number of them who are facing some tough decisions in the coming weeks and months.

“They have to make some decisions about when they have to renew, because there’s a renewal period (two years) and there are some coming up in October,” Farley said. “They have to decide, are they going to ditch this and do something else? So we try to give them some advice about what the current rules are. If Congress changes the rules, it’s all up in the air again. But we’ve told them to stay in class. There shouldn’t be any problems if all their paperwork is in order.”