Increasing Access to WIOA Services for DACA Recipients

On September 5, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an eventual end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections for individuals who arrived in the United States as children, also known as “Dreamers.” These individuals may be undocumented; may have been granted work permits under DACA; or may be part of mixed-status families containing members who are documented and those who are not.

According to the announcement, new DACA applications would no longer be accepted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as of September 5. Current DACA recipients whose permits expire before March 5, 2018, were given until October 5 to apply for a two-year renewal. DACA recipients with permits expiring after March 5, 2018, would lose their protections on March 6, 2018.

Attendees of UnidosUS’s Workforce Development Forum, a unique platform where stakeholders discuss issues affecting the immigrant workforce, have increased the urgency of their efforts to identify available resources to support “DACAmented” young people.

With 2014’s TEGL 02-14, DOL’s Employment and Training Administration made clear that young people with DACA work permits are eligible for services under WIA (now WIOA) Title I and III programs, including all formula-funded programs, Job Corps, and Wagner-Peyer employment services. The Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA; Title II of WIOA) does not require that recipients of services be legal residents, and at present only two states have documentation requirements around work authorization.

In two sessions at the conference, Chicago emerged as a city where organizations have begun working together to ensure that DACA young people receive the services for which they’re eligible. After the initial announcement of DACA in 2012, Chicago saw a wave of young people apply for DACA protections. However, many older and more at- risk recipients did not reapply or dropped out of educational programs to return to work. Spearheaded by program officer Alma Rodriguez, the Chicago Community Trust funded a series of conversations to identify where breakdowns were occurring, especially for DACA recipients with more risk factors.

One major finding was a lack of coordination among education, training, and legal services providers, sometimes even within the same agency. This led to a “narrower vision” of possible options for DACA recipients. For example, a high school guidance counselor might tell a DACA recipient that they are not eligible for federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants. But the guidance counselor might not know that DACA youth are eligible for services under WIOA, which can pay for a wide array of training programs.

As DACA recipients age, the size of the population is becoming clear: Chicago Public Schools students with a ‘B’ average qualify for free tuition at the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC). Approximately 45 percent of these students are DACA recipients, according to Emily Anderson, dean of adult education at Wilbur Wright College, part of the CCC system. Today about 20,000 DACA recipients are enrolled in the City Colleges, with 15,000 in credit-bearing courses and 5,000 in adult-education programs.

Better integration with legal services is uncovering young people who are eligible for more than DACA protections: about 15 percent are found eligible for lawful permanent residency, under the Violence Against Women Act, as refugees, or for other reasons.

One organization taking better integration of workforce, adult education, and legal services to new lengths is Erie House. By building citizenship consultations into their adult-education courses, they’ve increased the number of participants who are transitioning to their workforce programs. According to Judy Lai, director of workforce programs at Erie House, seeing paths to citizenship or permanent residency increases the motivation of these young adults.

Another theme at the UnidosUS forum is maintaining trust with DACA recipients. Approaches that attendees described included:

  • Ensuring that all staff understand the status of DACA, the ramifications of the 5 announcement, and where to learn more;
  • Starting support groups (in one case, led by a licensed clinical counselor employed by an affiliated child-care facility);
  • Creating arrangements with credit unions to provide zero-interest loans for DACA renewal fees; and
  • Sharing lists of organizations that offer renewal or other legal-services

Other DACA-related insights from attendees are available under #wfd17 on Twitter. NYEC will continue developing new tools for helping our members serve DACA young people, including sessions for our annual forum in November.