Public universities and community colleges across Missouri have begun enrolling students with Deferred Action status! We are excited by the opportunity this will provide our state and its young people, and so thankful for the hard work and dedication of our lead attorney, Jessica Piedra.
Five years ago the Missouri legislature debated a law that would have barred all undocumented students from attending Missouri public universities and colleges. As a member of Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates, Ms. Piedra helped to change the language of the bill so it only prohibited schools from awarding a public benefit, not from enrolling the students. We thought we had won, but Missouri schools administratively barred the students anyway.
Since the beginning Ms. Piedra has led the way on this issue. Still a student at the UMKC School of Law, she met with university officials along with community activists, such as Judy Ancel, to urge them to follow the plain meaning of the law that had been enacted. In their opinion, it did and does not prevent enrollment of undocumented students.
After graduating from UMKC, she joined their Hispanic Advisory Board. At every opportunity she brought up the issue with the Chancellor and his staff. Since then, she has met with advocates across the state of Missouri about the issue. Together, they have continued to press universities to accept undocumented students. Nonetheless, universities were afraid of losing their funding and refused.
This all changed last year when President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The Deferred Action status provides two years of protection from deportation and work authorization. Immigrants who entered the country when they were younger than 16 years old, are in school or have graduated high school, and have been in the United States for the last five years qualify to apply. The requirements are based on the DREAM Act, recognizing that there are about two million young people who have spent most of their lives in the United States, but do not have legal status. Our firm has helped over 150 young people to obtain DeferredAction status and move closer to achieving their dreams.
Ms. Piedra had never stopped advocating for undocumented youth across the state of Missouri. As the April 2013 meeting of the UMKC Hispanic Advisory Board approached, she reviewed the state law and the Deferred Action guidance. It was very clear that the state law required that students be “lawfully present” and that the government guidance stated that Deferred Action students were “lawfully present.” She created a fact sheet showing how the state law and the federal program worked together to share at the Hispanic Advisory Board meeting with the UMKC Chancellor, Leo Morton. The discussion at that meeting did not look promising as the university officials continued to resist considering enrolling these students.
Fortunately, after that meeting UMKC officials took Ms. Piedra’s fact sheet to the University of Missouri System’s attorney for review. Their attorney saw that the state law allowed Deferred Action students to enroll, and he instructed all four universities in the system to start enrolling them immediately!
We are delighted that with Ms. Piedra’s help UMKC took the lead on making this state-wide change. What is more, UMKC has decided to enroll Deferred Action students at in-state tuition rates both for Missouri residents and those who would otherwise qualify for their “metro-rate” tuition.
Local Community Colleges are also following this lead! The Metropolitan Community College system is enrolling Deferred Action students at in-state tuition rates. It also appears that Deferred Action students should be eligible for the Missouri A+ scholarship as it also simply requires “lawful presence.” The doors are opening for our immigrant youth in Missouri and beyond as institutions come to understand the Deferred Action program.
Jessica Piedra has advocated for Deferred Action students to get enrolled into programs and even helped one young woman save her full ride scholarship to a Doctoral program. She is committed to helping not only our clients, but all immigrant youth to achieve their dreams.
Call us if you are interested in a consultation, get ready for reform, apply for Deferred Action, or have more questions about these great news!