They walk the paths of our college campuses, they attend classes, they show up at co-curricular activities, and like any student they aspire to graduate and have a successful career.
Due to their status, their journey comes with many roadblocks and difficulties. As student affairs professionals, we educate ourselves to help support the diverse needs of our students. While we have grown in supporting those needs, one student population’s unique needs are less understood: the undocumented student.
According to the National Immigration Law Center, an undocumented student is defined as an individual that entered the United States without inspection or with fraudulent documents; or entered the country legally as a nonimmigrant who violated the terms of their status due to their visa’s expiration.
Collegeboard.com reports an estimate of about 65,000 undocumented students graduating from United States high schools each year. According to data pulled from the Pew Hispanic Center and the Urban Institute by Educator For Fair Consideration, there are approximately 7,000 to 13,000 undocumented students that are enrolled in higher education institutions across the United States.
No matter our individual opinions or stances as professionals, it is our priority to be knowledgeable, respectful, and supportive of all our students on our respective campuses. In order to help undocumented students we must be knowledgeable about the past, current, and future policies being implemented in our states and in our nation.
Currently in federal laws immigrants are referred to as an “illegal aliens.” On Thursday, October 22, 2015 Texas Representative Joaquin Castro introduced the CHANGE Act, “Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expressions Act,” in the House of Representatives. The bill has now been co-sponsored by Arizona Representative, Ruben Gallego. If passed, this bill would dispose of the term “illegal alien,” replacing it with “undocumented foreign national” and preventing executive branch agencies from using “alien” or “illegal alien” in documents and signage across the United States.
Words do matter as past historical events have shown us. This significant action implemented by Representative Castro is a huge step to creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment for not only immigrants in the nation but our undocumented students that attend our respective institutions.
Not only do these students face problems with how they are identified by our local and national governments but they also face additional challenges navigating their collegiate experience.
Financial – One of the top obstacles for undocumented students is financing their higher education aspirations. Due to their status, these students do not have access to federal loans, student loans, grants, and work-study. Currently the only states that allow in-state financial aid for undocumented students are Texas, California, New Mexico, and Illinois.
In-State Tuition for Public Colleges & Universities – Being able to finance college is the top issue for undocumented students and being eligible to be awarded in-state tuition for state public colleges and universities makes it possible for these students to afford higher education. Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin are the current states that offer in-state tuition for undocumented students.
Recently the United States Department of Education released the Resource Guide: Supporting Undocumented Youth. This is a great resource to gain knowledge on the past, current, and future policies for us to better help and support our undocumented students. If we can provide a welcoming and inclusive environment, not only would our undocumented students benefit but our institutions themselves. These students who have successfully enrolled in our institutions have gone through magnificent hurdles and difficulties to get them to where they are today. Due to their circumstance they have become creative problem solvers, are able to adapt, and are flexible individuals. Higher education institutions would be fortunate to have more students displaying these characteristics.
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