Undocumented Students in Higher Education

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UndocumentedStudents in Higher Education

UndocumentedStudents in Higher Education

Thenumber of undocumented students cannot go unnoticed in institutionsof higher learning. Therefore, there is a need to evaluate andestablish proper methods that can be used to ensure that they alsohave an effective learning environment around the United States.States such as Texas and California have been considered as two ofthe most affected areas by the migrants who are regarded asundocumented in educational centers. The following section presentsthe methodology of research, which is the qualitative approach, theresults of the study, and the recommendations found to be helpful inassisting undocumented students have conducive learning.


Thestudy relies on qualitative methodology by involving case studiesfrom California and Texas with regards to the status of undocumentedstudents in higher education as the basis for information. The twoStates have both a large population of undocumented immigrantpopulation and policies favoring higher learning for the migrants.The case studies used are sources from written documents on thenature of higher education in the two States. This study shalldiscuss the condition of the policies used in both Texas andCalifornia to come up with policy recommendations that can be appliedin other States as well.

CaseStudy: California Undocumented Student Policies

Californiahas been marked as having the highest number of undocumentedimmigrant students, which are slightly greater than those in Texas.It is also noted that the State has continuously supported theireducation through the enactment of policies that provide financialassistance for the students in addition to the implementation ofDeferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows them towork after graduation. The universities in the State have alsoconsidered their students for scholarships, a factor that has made iteasy for many immigrant students to graduate (Arciniega, Fung, Speer,&amp Tarzi, n.d.). Taking the case of University of California,Berkeley, it has programs that ensure that the undocumented immigrantstudents in the school are protected and provided with financialsupport, thus, enabling them to complete their education withoutdropping out.

Oneof the cases that are discussed in the university’s undocumentedstudent’s page on the website is that of Emily, a South Korean, whocame to the U.S. with her mother and siblings when she was 10 with adream to go to college in future (Undocumented students dare todream, n.d). She and her sister managed to get in-tuition fee supportsince they fulfilled the requirements set by the CaliforniaLegislature AB 540 of 2001. The legislature allows universitystudents to seek in-tuition fee support only if they have attended3-4 years, or graduated from a Californian High School or attainedG.E.D and filed an affidavit indicating application for legalresidency (Undocumented students dare to dream, n.d). For her case,Emily went into Berkeley where the possibility of getting financialsupport was promising, but she had to drop out since at the timebecause her undocumented status limited access to in State funding,scholarships, and student loans.

Furthermore,following a year out of school, the young woman, in this case,reapplied to join the school again using the money saved fromworking. The light came through when the university introduced anUndocumented Student Program to help them have an easier time whileat the school (Undocumented students dare to dream, n.d). Theinitiative aims to help the students access various services in theuniversity, such as academic coaching, grants for emergencies,housing, and legal immigration support, which has translated to ahigher number of undocumented students graduating and finding work(Arciniega et al., n.d).

Inaddition to the university’s support program, the state ofCalifornia implemented the DACA, which was introduced in 2012 by theObama administration (Perez, 2014). The government-recognized programhas, in turn, helped in the transition from school to work since itoffers undocumented immigrants who meet its given admission criteriaexclusion from deportation, which eliminates the constant fear ofexpulsion which largely affects students. It also allows them to geta renewable two-year working permit, which motivates them to completetheir higher education degrees since there is hope for work (Perez,2014).

Thecase study represents the operation of programs that support andprotect undocumented immigrant students, especially because theimmigration laws are set to change anytime. The program offered byBerkeley is an example of the many initiatives that have beenimplemented by schools around California where the state policiesallow for the application of both the DACA and other programsaccording to institutional preferences. Through these programs,students such as Emily, in this case, have managed to accessfinancial support for university education and application into theexpensive DACA program.

CaseStudy: Texas Undocumented Student Policies

Theproximity of Texas to the Mexican border and Central America, ingeneral, has resulted in a high number of legal and illegalimmigrants in the State when compared to others in the U.S. A studyby Brannon and Albright (2016) investigating the impacts theimmigrants have on the economy of Texas reveals that about 1% of thestudents in higher education are illegal immigrants. The researchfurther discusses that the enrollment of illegal immigrant childreninto school is higher than expected with a majority of them having atleast a high school degree and about 21.1% having acquired universitydegrees (Brannon &amp Albright, 2016). The high percentage ofcollege graduates is compared to 30.3% of native alumnae, whichindicates that the State has a high enrollment of illegal immigrantsinto higher education institutions, which is due to its favorableState-based conditions. Education for the undocumented immigrants isin fact rated the highest cost spent on them in the State since otherbenefits, such as health and legal expenses, are limited to aspecific number of the group (National Immigration Law Center, 2016).

Currently,the policies implemented by the State of Texas favor the education ofillegal immigrants living in the State to a level of high educationin the universities. The systems allowing for higher learning in theState and the implementation of the DACA initiative has enabled manyundocumented immigrants to stay without deportation (Perez, 2014).Take for example a case that was published by the Texas Tribune in2016 about the story of Raul Zamora, an undocumented immigrant and athen student at the University of Texas, who faced deportation afterhaving broken traffic laws (Cobler, 2016). In his encounter, thestudent was caught driving a car with a broken taillight and iffollowed, found him on the verge of deportation since he was held fora week in immigration detention for a week. This was back in 2009where the DACA Act was non-existent, but Texas had its DREAM Actenabling the immigrant students to access school.

Moreover,without federal laws protecting undocumented immigrant students, thepossibility of been deported is very high where without interventionRaul in the case above would have ended up back in Mexico, a countryhe left only at the age of 10 (Cobler, 2016). Following the policychanges that occurred following the introduction of DACA, cases suchas what Raul went through are non-existent with an added backup fromthe immigration laws of 2014. Raul managed to finish his educationand under DACA has a work permit that has kept him in the countryallowing him to lead a normal life where he might even gain legalliving status in a few years to come.


Theabove two cases drawn from California and Texas undocumentedstudents’ experiences illustrate how they struggled before theintroduction of immigration policies that favored their stay in theU.S. The evident efforts are such as fear of deportation since theydo not have any legal papers permitting them to remain in thecountry, lack of financial support to enable access to highereducation, lack of employment due to legal status, and the consequentstress brought about by the segregation from the rest of the society(Perez, 2014). The case of Emily dropping out after only one yearstudy due to financial issues presents a case of very many studentsacross the country who drop out of university since the system doesnot support them financially.

Accordingto a report by Golash-Boza (2016), an estimated 30,000 undocumentedstudents enroll into schools per year, but only less than 2000 ofthese get to graduate. The record goes further to state that the rateof dropouts is due to lack of financial support, coaching andmentoring support that other students receive (Golash-Boza, 2016).The introduction of the support program at Berkeley provided her withthe needed access to support regarding finance and guidance whichensured that she among other students in the program managed tograduate. With such a program, the inhibitions that limitundocumented students’ completion of higher education are limitedsince the program extends to finding its graduates funds that make itpossible to apply for DACA which is another constraint for thestudents. The case of Raul from Texas also shows that the policiesgave by the state ensure that students are protected from deportationby the immigration department in which if the case occurred inanother state such as Alabama, he would have been deported.

Forstudents, such as Emily, in universities that are supportive of theireducation, the future is not always as rosy. This is because thepolicies such as DACA require payments that consequently introduceanother financial constraint for the students (Ibarra &amp Sherman,2012). This brings back the fears of having to be deported since theyare no longer students and work is available only to immigrantsprotected by DACA.

Thepolicies applied per State vary meaning that what is used in Texasand California is different though both states are good examples ofStates that have managed to make it possible for undocumentedstudents to access higher education (Perez, 2014). Both States havepolicies that allow undocumented students access to in-state tuitionfor public universities, which offsets financial burden for themsince they cannot afford to pay the high costs (National ConferenceState Legislators, 2014). The two further extend their financial aidto the undocumented students, which are unlike a majority of otherStates where they have to fund themselves through college and mainlyas international students.

Thecase of California is supported by the policies AB 540 allowingundocumented youths to access higher education and AB 130 and 131,which enable them to access scholarships both from in-state and outof State funds. The initiatives and resources access for undocumentedstudents not only covers school fees but extends to covering otherexpenses such as housing, library and other costs that may arise(Undocumented students dare to dream, n.d). The case of Berkeleyshows how universities can make it easier for students to accessthese privileges. Likewise, Texas has established grants andscholarship programs including the Pell Grant that does not requirepaying for students from poor backgrounds (Olivas, 2012).

Thepolicies that have been put in place in both Texas and California areexemplary to other States that are yet to implement policies thatsupport undocumented students’ access to higher education. The roleof universities as presented by the case of Berkeley in providingsafe havens for illegal immigrant students and their later transitionto post-graduate life is also clear (Martin, 2013). If translated tothe rest of the States, it could mean a higher number of graduatesfrom this minority group and the overall protection from thecurrently impending threats due to the expected immigration lawchanges.


Withthe immigration laws set to change in the near future, the currentpolicies that protect and ensure access to education for undocumentedstudents need to serve as the beacons for the thousands ofundocumented youths currently in the U.S. Universities which havecontinuously provided hope for these students need to make theircurrent programs extensive to include financing for legaldocumentation and temporary protected status for their learners(Perez, 2014). Consequently, this will ensure that the fear ofdeportation, which might interfere with their education is minimized.

Theopposition to the provision of the in-state tuition in a majority ofthe States argues that it eats into the state budget, and though themajority of the states apply DACA initiative when dealing withundocumented immigrants, it fails to cover education specifics(Perez, 2014). The study recommends that apart from providing forwork permits and social security number to immigrants, the policyshould be repealed to cover the provision of higher education fundsfor the group. Though they manage to pay part of their fee byworking, additional funding would make it easy for them to learnwithout hitches and after that find jobs that allow them tocontribute to the economy of their respective states.

Inconsideration to the evident benefits brought by been a beneficiaryof DACA, and the ease with which undocumented students in the statesgot financial funding after its implementation, there is need toreduce the high cost of getting the permit. Research indicates thatmajority of the undocumented youths who fail to get DACA are usuallythose who do not comply with the fee required for registration(Beadle, 2012). Without adequate financial support to pursueeducation, the additional cost of accessing DACA status isunattainable for most of these students. The benefits of been underDACA extend to states that are unfriendly to undocumented studentssuch as Alabama where beneficiaries access in-state tuition whilethose yet to get it struggle to pay their fees (Perez, 2014). Inlight of this, proponents of undocumented youth education should pushto have the policy changed to have a lower pay while in the meantimeprovide funds to cover the costs.

Additionally,even with suitable policies such as those in the state of Californiaand Texas, a majority of the undocumented students are unaware of howto access the benefits available to them. The wide range of policiesin the two states, for example, may be confusing without a guidinginitiative (The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2014). The case of Emily givenabove is one example of a student in an institution that has aprogram covering their needs which are absent in most otherinstitutions, meaning that there are students who give up due to lackof support. This study recommends that the states form undocumentedstudents’ programs where such information as financial assistancecan be made available as well as guidance on which institutions bestsuit their needs.

Thefederal government should also consider extending the reception ofDeferred Action for Parental Accountability to the parents of DACArecipients especially those in university (Lind, 2014). The aim ofthis recommendation is to ensure that a greater number ofundocumented immigrants get work permits which will in turn helpreduce the financial stress these families experience while trying topay fees and stay in the country (Oakford, 2014). Apart from gettingfinancial support, these students will also focus on education sinceright now a majority of them are working to help their undocumentedfamilies.

InStates with hostile education conditions for undocumented immigrants,local colleges and universities could implement programs that supportthese students. Combined with mentors and financial advisory teams,the campuses can help create a bridge for students from secondaryinto the universities that have support programs.


Inconclusion, it can be deduced that mush needs to be done to help theundocumented students in higher learning institutions acquireeffective education. Both Texas and California are a revelation thatthese learners are big in number in the United States. Despite theefforts by the two states to enrol them in their systems, much stillneeds to be done. The federal government ought to be involvedextensively in provision of funds and required facilities. The lackof a cohesive approach to the education of undocumented youths in thecountry has left many of these unable to acquire degrees even for thebrightest students. The misguided notion that they are a burden tothe economy has especially made it hard to pay the high fees due tolack of financial support. However, as this study reveals, support byuniversities and education boards along with a repeal of the existingimmigration policies could help make the system more favorable acrossthe states.


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Arciniega,E., Fung, V., Speer, C., &amp Tarzi, G. (n.d.). Report: Undocumentedstudents at UC Berkeley &amp the DREAM Act. RestorativeJustice Center, UC Berkeley.Retrieved fromhttp://rjcenterberkeley.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/DreamersReport.pdf

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