Tens of thousands of American high school and college students and teachers were thrown into a lurch this week when President Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
For days after the DACA decision, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stayed silent about the end of the program, which protects young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation – including tens of thousands of undocumented high school and college students and as many as 20,000 undocumented teachers.
In a rare interview with the mainstream media, which was posted Friday, DeVos told CBS News that "my heart is with" the DREAMers. "I understand they're here not by their own volition, and yet they are serious about pursuing their education and contributing to our American society and culture," she said. "And I would just encourage them to take courage and have courage."
DeVos said it was "Congress's role" to pass laws that would help them. "We are a nation of compassion, and we are also a nation of laws."
An Education Department spokesperson did not respond to six requests sent over multiple days from BuzzFeed News for comment from DeVos. She said she hoped Congress would "do their job and address this issue once and for all."
Trump's announcement that he was ending DACA prompted immediate outcries from scores of colleges and education groups across the country, including those aligned with school choice, the issue DeVos most fervently supports.
DeVos's long silence stood in contrast to a letter from five former education secretaries released Thursday night, including two who served under Republicans, who wrote to Congress this week to express "deep concern" for DREAMers, warning Trump's move to end DACA without a legislative fix in hand would "trigger a chaotic reversal of the gains achieved by these Dreamers."
They called for Congress to come to DREAMers' aid. "We must not, we cannot, let these children down. The stakes are too high for them and for the future of our country," the letter said.
Across the country, many schools outright condemned Trump's decision, saying that it sent the lives of some 800,000 young people into chaos. Colleges in liberal and conservative states alike said the decision flew in the face of a mission to educate vulnerable students.
DeVos has commented in the past on issues raised by Trump that do not touch directly on the Education Department. On the same day that Trump said he would pull the US out of the Paris climate accord, she released a statement saying the decision was "one more example of [Trump's] commitment to rolling back the unrealistic and overreaching regulatory actions by the previous Administration. President Trump is making good on his promise to put America and American workers first."
She also released a statement about a Supreme Court decision on religious liberty from June, saying it "sends a clear message that religious discrimination in any form cannot be tolerated in a society that values the First Amendment."
In a rare interview with the media in April, DeVos spoke about undocumented students, telling the Miami Herald that students "should not be concerned." She added, "They should continue to focus on their studies and continue to pursue their educations."
In the wake of the rescission of DACA, undocumented students told BuzzFeed News that they feared they would not be able to continue their educations. Losing their DACA status, they said, would make it impossible for them to work while in school, and could mean they lose the ability to pay in-state tuition at public colleges.