SALT LAKE CITY — Acknowledging that underrepresented students face "intractable structural barriers as they work to access, persist and complete higher education," the Utah Board of Higher Education unanimously approved a resolution Friday vowing to help "Dreamers" succeed in the state.
The resolution, intended to recognize the positive impact of "Dreamers" in the Utah System of Education, was presented to the board by leaders of its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Workgroup.
Initially, the workgroup had intended to present the resolution to the board and bring it back to its meeting in May for action, but board members opted to take it to a vote on Friday instead.
The resolution says in part "We embrace and celebrate the diverse cultures, backgrounds, and insights Dreamers, undocumented and DACA-eligible individuals contribute, which elevate the experiences of all students, faculty, staff, and community. We must harness equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts across the system so that Dreamers, undocumented, and DACA-eligible students can persist and flourish."
DACA is short for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows some people without lawful presence in the United States who were brought to the country as children to receive a renewable two-year deferral from deportation and obtain a work permit. It does not provide a path to citizenship.
The resolution also vows that the state's higher education system will collaborate with Utah's public colleges and universities and K-12 partners "to expand dedicated resources and streamline processes, including but not limited to admissions and enrollment, that support Dreamers, undocumented and DACA-eligible individuals."
Board member Lisa Michele Church said she is especially proud that Utah was among the first of 19 states to allow students unauthorized to be in the United States to to pay in-state tuition if they graduated from a Utah high school after attending at least three years.
Church said nationally there are 216,000 DACA-eligible students and 87% of those students are enrolled in undergraduate programs, while 13% are enrolled in graduate programs.
"Whereas in Utah, there are more than 10,000 DACA recipients who have come to live and work legally, but only a fraction of them are accessing higher education," she said, noting the language in the resolution that says the board has a responsibility to advocate for "Dreamers," undocumented and DACA-eligible individuals.
While board members may believe their intentions are good with respect to ensuring "Dreamers" and DACA recipients have access and feel welcome in Utah's public colleges and universities, "this is the place we can manifest our intentions" by passing the resolution, Church said.
The board's action comes days after the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the American Dream and Promise Act. The proposal would make DACA recipients and other unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States before age 18 eligible to apply for a 10-year period of conditional permanent residence if they satisfy several requirements.
Under the program, eligible applicants could apply for permanent residence if they earned a college degree or enrolled in a bachelor's program for two years, if they served in the military for at least two years, or if they worked in the U.S. for a three-year period.
It is unclear how the proposal will fare in the Senate.
President Joe Biden, in a statement, said in part that the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 "is a critical first step in reforming our immigration system and will provide much needed relief to TPS (temporary protected status) holders and Dreamers, young people who came here as children and know no other country."
The House's action comes as the highest number of people in two decades have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks.
Most single adults and families are being expelled, but unaccompanied children are not and their numbers continue to rise, according to news reports.