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Bills in Nevada Legislature would fund DACA tuition, immigration clinic

UNLV Immigration Clinic

“Dreamers” are undocumented migrants who were brought into America as children.

Eleven years ago, President Barack Obama enacted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which gives temporary lawful status to those migrants and keeps them from being deported. Under DACA, they can also get jobs, drivers licenses, and attend college.

Estimates put the number of DACA recipients at 12,000 people in Nevada.

As they and the rest of the country wait for changes in federal immigration laws, Nevada lawmakers are debating a few bills in the legislature that could aid in college tuition and the UNLV Immigration Clinic. At the same time, a federal proposal this week could alter healthcare coverage for recipients.

Under Assembly Bill 226, DACA recipients who have lived in Nevada for at least one year would qualify for in-state tuition costs.

Esther Pla-Cazares is an academic counselor at the College of Southern Nevada. She said lowering education costs would help keep more students in college.

“The way that we look at this bill is that it would increase, not only access but increase our enrollment.” Pla-Cazares said. “The student enrollment has been dropping, so this is one way that our enrollment can start increasing if we are opening access to higher education.”

“Most of these students are funding their own education,” said Pla-Cazares. "They’re working one or two jobs to fund their education. The retention rate is something that gets affected because of this circle they’re going in trying to fund the upcoming semesters.”

Earlier this week, the Department of Health and Human Services released a proposal to give DACA recipients access to healthcare through Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. If finalized, coverage would extend to an estimated 129,000 DACA recipients in the U.S.

Despite the proposed changes to the program, DACA remains in limbo. The status of the policy is tied up in federal court, and Congress has been at a stalemate over immigration policy for decades.

“This is a very fragile program,” said Michael Kagan, director of the UNLV Immigration Clinic. “It’s always been under legal attack and legal dispute. It’s not a substitute for Congress actually changing the law.”

A 2022 ruling by the Department of Homeland Security fortified and protected the DACA program. However, a current injunction from the U.S. District Court blocks U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from granting any new applications for DACA.

For Teissy Angel Ramirez, her status is a driving force for her advocacy.

“DACA is temporary. We don’t have anything that is permanent as of yet. We’re not guaranteed to stay here.”

Guests: Michael Kagan, director, UNLV Immigration Clinic; Teissy Angel Ramirez, college student and DACA recipient; Esther Pla-Cazares, immigration counselor, College of Southern Nevada

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Briana Joseph is the afternoon and weekend announcer at Nevada Public Radio. She hosts during national syndication from NPR. You’ll hear her voice during All Things Considered and Weekend Edition.
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