Undocumented Students

Education is a Human Right

Let’s Talk About Undocumented Students in the CA Community College

A conversation starter compiled by Dulce María Gray on behalf of the WVC Global Citizenship Committee for an exhibition at the WVC Global Citizenship Center

(All photos by DMG and enhanced with Waterlogue application.)


Over 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools yearly in the US. Since the Obama administration passed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), undocumented students have a better chance at pursuing college education. For those who are eligible, the threat of deportation is deferred for two years, and they can get some financial aid. Consequently, community colleges can expect an increased number of undocumented students. But, despite slightly improved conditions, those students still face daunting challenges, and therefore, faculty and all involved in student support services have to do a better job at preparing to serve them.

IMG_3509Where do undocumented migrants come from?
  • About 75 percent of all undocumented migrants in the USA are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and other Latin American countries (especially Central America).
  • The other 25 percent are from everywhere, especially Asia—1.4 million are from Asia, 12 percent of the total undocumented population.
  • They also come from Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Iran, Israel, Mongolia, Taiwan, Philippines, Croatia, England, Ireland, Indonesia, France, Fiji, and just about anywhere else.
  • Being undocumented is not just a Latino issue.
IMG_3511Why don’t they come here legally—the way my ancestors did?
  • Ancestors migrated “lawfully” because there was no federal immigration law until 1882.
  • Before 1882, anyone who arrived from anywhere was allowed in.
  • But in 1882, Congress decided that immigrants from China—whom many believed were biologically inferior to Europeans—should be kept out of the USA. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed; it spurred the process of restricting many other groups.
  • In 1924, Congress enacted a new immigration quota system that drastically limited immigration, especially from countries outside of Northern and Western Europe.
  • In 1965, President Johnson signed into law an immense overhaul of the immigration system. That law affirmed that the USA could not return to open borders, and it prioritized family connections and employability (instead of race or country of origin) as the major criteria for eligibility.
IMG_3495Myths about immigration today:
  • Undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes but still get free benefits. Not true: they pay sales taxes, property taxes (a main source of funding for schools), social security taxes (though they are not eligible for benefits), and federal, state and local taxes.
  • Anybody can enter and stay in the USA legally. Not true: generally, permission is limited to people who are
    • 1) highly trained in a skill needed in the USA,
    • 2) escaping political persecution, or
    • 3) joining close family already in the USA.
  • Today’s immigrants refuse to learn English. Not true: the demand for ESL classes nationwide is greater than the number of classes available. And, according to the Migration Policy Institute, two-thirds of immigrants speak English “well” or “very well,” even if they speak one or more other languages at home.
IMG_3499What does it mean to be an “undocumented” student?

The student is not a citizen of the United States, or does not have a “green card” that permits legal permanent residency, or does not have a visa or other legal documentation allowing him/her to be in the United States. There are two ways of becoming undocumented:

  1. crossing the border without papers
  2. staying in the USA after a visa expires.

Students often say that “being undocumented is like being in an invisible prison.”

IMG_3496What is the statistical story?
  • There are 11.2 million undocumented immigrants of all ages in the USA.
  • There are 2.1 million undocumented students in the USA who are potentially eligible for the Federal DREAM Act.
  • There are 1.1 million undocumented children under the age of 18 living in the USA.
  • About 65,000 undocumented students graduate, per year, from high schools in the USA.
  • CA has the largest number of undocumented students, 6.8% of the total CA population.
  • About 553,00 undocumented students are eligible for the most recently proposed DREAM Act in CA.
  • (Source: www.e4fc.org/Fact_sheet.pdf)
IMG_3497What else do I need to know about undocumented students?
  • Often, undocumented students have witnessed terrifying violence and experienced abuse and poverty.
  • Increasingly, undocumented students may have been part of human trafficking.
  • Their families may have been left behind and they may feel stressed, fearful, lonely and depressed.
  • They may be living in dire poverty and unsafe conditions.
  • They may be part of mixed-status families.
  • They may be very reluctant to reveal their status.
  • They may feel anxious about being caught and deported.
  • They may be acculturating, even if they’ve been in the USA for many years.
  • Their emotional/psychological status is taxing and affects the learning process directly.
  • Also, these students may be very resilient, resourceful, hard working and determined.
  • Yet, they may be afraid and/or unused to asking for help.
  • They may be underprepared for traditional academic demands, but they may be very knowledgeable in other areas and ways of learning.
  • Their values and languages may be “different” from what you expect and live yourself, thus respect is crucial.
  • Asian students must also deal with the “model minority” myth.
IMG_3510What do I need to know about undocumented Asian students?
  • According to the Department of Homeland Security, 1.3 million undocumented immigrants are from Asia.
  • That is 12 percent of all undocumented immigrants—making this a certainly important (not just Latino) issue.
  • Ten percent of all undocumented minors (about 40,000) are Asian.
  • Undocumented Asians’ political presence is increasing along with pan-Asian organizations such as
    • RAISE (Revolutionizing Asian American Immigrant Stories on the East Coast) strive to create safe spaces for undocumented youth to share their stories while advocating for humane immigration policies,
    • and AALDEF (the Asian American Legal Defense and Education), “a national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans.”
  • By year five of President Obama’s presidency, 2 million immigrants had been deported—250,000 of them Asian.
  • More Asians and Pacific Islanders are in detention today than were in detention under the Chinese Exclusion Act.
IMG_0006May undocumented students attend colleges and universities in California and elsewhere in the US?
  • Yes, undocumented students may attend any college or university in California and most other states if he or she meets admissions requirements.
  • No federal law requires proof of citizenship to be admitted to US colleges and universities. Most institutions set their own admission policies.
  • Some states place restrictions on undocumented students (for instance, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Virginia). For example,
    • the Georgia Board of Regents banned undocumented students from attending the top 5 state-funded colleges.
    • Alabama and South Carolina prohibit undocumented students from enrolling at any public postsecondary institutions.
  • On the other hand, currently, 16 states have laws allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition if they meet certain conditions: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington.
  • Some universities have adopted policies to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition (for example, University of Hawaii and University of Michigan).
  • bestcolleges.com has a College Guide for Undocumented Students where additional information can be found.

Source: best colleges.com’s Guide for Undocumented Students. http://www.bestcolleges.com/resources/undocumented-students-guide/

IMG_3512 3.22.35 PMWhat is DACA?

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, DACA, is a temporary fix.

After the 112th Congress once again failed to pass the DREAM Act, President Obama directed the Department of Homeland security to initiate the DACA program, which essentially provides guidelines for applying “prosecutorial discretion” when dealing with young undocumented immigrants. Prosecutorial discretion could be interpreted to simply mean not deporting an undocumented person if she meets the requirements outlined in the DREAM Act for conditional permanent residency. DACA status expires after two years; although the application is expensive, renewal is possible.

Undocumented students may qualify for DACA consideration if they:

  • Were under age 31 as of June 15th, 2012.
  • Arrived in the U.S. illegally before their 16th birthday.
  • Have lived continuously in the USA from June 15, 2007 to the present.
  • Are physically present in the USA upon making a request for DACA consideration.
  • Had no lawful immigration status on June 15, 2012.
  • Are currently in high school,or
  • have graduated or earned a General Educational Development (GED) certificate.
  • Are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or USA Armed Forces.
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors,
  • and are not considered a risk to national security or public safety.
IMG_3503What is AB 540?
  • On 12 October 2001 the Governor of California, Gray Davis, signed a bill allowing undocumented students who meet requirements to pay in-state tuition fees.
  • On January 2002 this law took effect for the California Community Colleges and CA State University systems as Education Code 68130.5
  • On 24 January 2002 the UC Board of Regents voted to adopt AB 540.
  • AB540 applies only to public colleges and universities.
  • Private colleges and universities often treat undocumented students like international students (who must pay international fees).
IMG_3517What are the basic requirements to apply for AB 540?

Students must have:

  • Attended a high school in CA for three or more years
  • Graduated from a high school in CA, or attained a GED
  • Filed an affidavit stating that they have or will apply to legalize as soon as they are eligible
IMG_3498Is AB 540 only for undocumented students?

No, it is not. As of 1 January 2015, California’s AB 540 law allows a student to be exempt from paying out-of-state tuition if:

  • she is a non-resident of the US or of CA but
  • has successfully completed three years of high school academic credit in less than three years, or
  • she can document having been enrolled in a CA high school for at least three academic years during K-12
  • and she has signed the CA non-resident exemption request, and if she is undocumented, that she is expecting to or is in the process of adjusting her immigration status.
dreamWhat is the CA DREAM Act?

The California (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) DREAM Act is the name given to Assembly Bills 130 and 131, which allow eligible undocumented students to apply for and receive state-based financial aid and institutional scholarships in public community colleges.

The CA DREAM Act was first introduced on 19 Feb 2010. It was signed into law on 8 October 2011.

The federal DREAM Act was first introduced in the Senate on 1 August 2001 as a plan for joint immigration and education reform. It is still being debated.

IMG_3515What are AB 130 and AB 131?
  • California Assembly Bills 130 and 131, together known as the California Dream Act of 2011, went into effect on 1 January 2012.
  • They are laws that increase access to financial aid for undocumented students to attend four-year universities and community colleges in California.
  • Each institution implements the CA Dream Act differently.
  • Therefore, students must consult their counselors.
IMG_3491What are the benefits of applying for AB 130 and AB 131, the CA Dream Act?

 AB 130 allows eligible AB540 students to apply for and receive institutional aid derived from non-state funds at all CA public colleges and universities. These funds include scholarships funded through private donors, alumni contributions and individual departmental efforts. Students must apply and compete for available awards as determined by the college.

AB 131 allows eligible AB540 students to access state-funded financial aid programs such as Cal Grants and the Board of Governors Fee Waiver. The CA Student Aid Commission (CSAC) developed the CA Dream Act Application, a FAFSA-like application for AB 540 students.

IMG_3492What documents does a student need to fill out the Dream Act application?
  • W-2 forms and other documents that verify income (including parents’ records if student is a dependent)
  • Income tax returns
  • Records of child support
  • Records of student scholarships
  • Current bank statements
  • Current farm, investment, or business records (if over 100 employees)
IMG_3488Is there financial aid for undocumented students?

Yes! There is aid from the state of California, and from private and institutional scholarships (such as the WVC Scholarship). Students should consult a financial aid counselor. There is no aid from Federal sources.

IMG_3490What type of financial aid is available at the community college under the California Dream Act?

AB540 students who qualify under AB 131 and submit the CA Dream Act Application may apply for these programs:

  • Board of Governors Fee Waiver
  • Community College Institutional Scholarships
  • Extended Opportunity Programs & Services (EOPS)

Students are eligible for other programs at the CSU and UC systems.

IMG_3485What must eligible undocumented students do in order to apply for financial aid?

First, students must submit the Dream Act Application online.

IMG_3479How can instructors help undocumented students?

They can become informed about services on campus, so that they can be sound resources.

They can become familiar with Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC), an organization that aims “to empower undocumented young people to achieve their academic and career goals and actively contribute to society.”

They can become familiar with the lives of undocumented students, by for example, looking through E4FC’s “Things I’ll Never Say,” an online platform for undocumented youth across the country that invites them to tell their own immigration narratives and personal experiences through writing, video, audio, art, photography, comics and other creative media.

Refer students to Own the Dream and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF); these are websites with lots of information.

IMG_3500What books and films can help me understand the plight of undocumented students?



  • About Papers is the story of undocumented youth and the challenges they face as they turn 18.
  • Documented: A Film by an Undocumented American (first shown on CNN) chronicles the personal experiences of Jose Antonio Vargas, the journalist who ousted himself as undocumented in the New York Times.
  • Harvest of Empire: The Untold Story of Latinos in America is based on the book by journalist Juan González; it looks at the role that the US economic and military interests play in triggering unprecedented waves of migration from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. The 2010 Census revealed that Latinos in the US accounted for an astounding 56 percent of the total population growth in the United States since 2000.
  • Illegal is a short video about students who are undocumented.
  • Latinos Beyond Reel: Challenging a Media Stereotype uncovers a pattern of gross misrepresentation of Latinos by entertainment and other media, and documents the narrow range of images that deeply harm Latinos and all others in the United States and the world.
  • Living Undocumented: High School, College and Beyond shares the stories of six dreamers.
  • María in Nobody’s Land/María en Tierra de Nadie presents the testimonies of three undocumented women from El Salvador who leave their homes in search of a better life in the United States and travel through dangerous Mexican territory. In one scene at a shelter, a Mexican activist explains the following to the women and other migrants: impoverished migrants are big business; they are merchandise that is traded in Mexico. And, they have no protection: in Mexico, every six months, more than 9,000 migrants experience violence. They endure beatings, robberies, assaults, prostitution, slave trade, kidnapping, rape, torture and death. In that same time, the Zetas/organized crime, make more than 25 million US dollars.
  • Spare Parts is the story of how four undocumented high school students won the national underwater robotics competition.
  • Stable Life is about an undocumented family living and working at Bay Meadows racetrack in California. Dionicia, José Luis Martinez and their children attempt to leave behind Mexico’s dire poverty and to reach the American dream. In August 2008 the racetrack is demolished, there is little work, their community is torn apart, and the family is separated yet again.
  • This (Illegal) American Life presents snapshots of undocumented life in the USA.
  • Undocumented is a short documentary that explores the role of “deferred action” for people who were brought to the United States as children and live in the country illegally. On 15 June 2012 President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order allowed these undocumented entrants—commonly known as “DREAMers”—to have limited authorization to work and temporary reprieve from deportation.
  • Which Way Home follows several unaccompanied child migrants as they journey through Mexico en route to the U.S. on a freight train they call “The Beast,” and tracks the stories of children like Olga and Freddy, nine-year-old Hondurans who are desperately trying to reach their families in Minnesota, and Jose, a ten-year-old El Salvadoran who has been abandoned by smugglers and ends up alone in a Mexican detention center. The film focuses on Kevin, a canny, streetwise 14-year-old Honduran, whose mother hopes that he will reach New York City and send money back to his family.
IMG_3513One story out of many:

I legally came to the US 13 years ago with my husband, who was transferred here to work as a software engineer when Silicon Valley did not have enough skilled workers to attend demand. We brought with us our 3 year-old son, and later had another son, who was born here. Because we have always been here working for big companies, getting our Green Cards and later the US nationality was pretty easy. Nevertheless, I see no difference between my story and those of people who came to this country without visas but who have since then been a positive part of this society, of their communities—people who work and pay taxes, who struggle for a better life for their children. I see no distinction between the “documented me” and the “undocumented others,” in the same way as I see no difference between my two sons, one born abroad and the other born in the US. Are they different just because they happened to be born in two different countries? Do they have different rights? Do they love this place differently? Do they deserve to be treated differently? I understand this is a very complex topic and I do not support an “open door” policy for the US, but I do believe that we cannot punish the people who are already here, especially the children, for having chosen this country to call home. Marginalization is not the answer; it will be, instead, the shame of a country that had always taken pride in being a “melting pot.” (Anonymous, 28 Feb. 2012 from Jose Antonio Vargas’ “Define American” online campaign.)

Take a look at this: an interactive presentation done by Dara Lind for Vox titled “35 maps that explain how America is a nation of immigrants.”

Read this insightful article by Ted Hesson, “Shadow Life: Inside the Mind of an Undocumented Kid.”

Take a look at this project: “On Being Undocumented: TheDream, US scholarship recipients share their stories and thoughts on college.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s