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Support Undocumented Students
Carolyn Stone, Ed.D.
Monday May 01, 2017
by: Carolyn Stone, Ed.D.

Section: Inside Insight

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Scores of undocumented students consider the United States as their own but because of the state laws enacted following the U.S. Supreme Court case of Plyler v. Doe (1982), many of these students face considerable hardship in funding a higher education. Despite decades of trying to enact federal immigration reform to create educational pathways for undocumented students, federal legislation has yet to materialize. Until the federal government passes immigration reform each state will remain as the primary determiner of the options available to undocumented students.

Plyler v. Doe gives pre-K–12 undocumented students the right to public education; however, higher education remains a barrier as states have figured out how to exclude or include higher education as a viable option. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program implemented in 2012 gives certain undocumented students the opportunity to obtain temporary legal status.

The DREAM Act would have allowed undocumented students access to higher education with the same financial support other students enjoy, but despite several attempts it has failed to pass. Therefore, affordability is still out of reach for most undocumented students. As of March 2017, 20 states allow undocumented residents of their state to pay in-state tuition rates for college. Sixteen of these provide in-state tuition to undocumented residents by state legislation (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington), and four are by virtue of the state university system (Hawaii, Michigan, Oklahoma and Rhode Island).

Virginia and Mississippi offers in-state tuition at public and community colleges to DACA recipients but not for other undocumented students. Some public colleges and universities in Nevada in absence of any policy do provide in-state tuition. Tennessee and Florida extend in-state tuition to U.S. citizen students who are dependents of undocumented immigrants.

Six states (Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri and South Carolina) expressly prohibit undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition benefits. Five states (California, New Mexico, Minnesota, Texas and Washington) offer state financial assistance to unauthorized students, and Utah allows public universities to use private sources of funding to financially support undocumented students. See http://uleadnet.org/issue/map and www.ncsl.org/research/immigration/tuition-benefits-for-immigrants.aspx for more information about your state’s status on undocumented students.
Even though federal legislation has failed to pass, some states have enacted their own DREAM Act. For example, in 2011, California enacted the California DREAM Act giving undocumented students access to private college scholarships for state schools. Even when financial options are available, it stands to reason that some students will be reluctant or unwilling to disclose their status for fear of what this might mean for their families.
How to Help
As a school counselor, there are a number of ways you can help undocumented students realize their postsecondary education dreams.

Be a safe space. Just as you are a safe place for all students, especially those marginalized such as LGBTQ students, let students know you are also a safe place for undocumented students to seek help and advice. Currently many undocumented students are fearful about revealing their undocumented status to outsiders. Students may have been taught from the time they are little to keep this information to themselves. Spread the word among the student population that you provide a safe place.

Become the school’s authority on your state’s stance on financial assistance for undocumented students and higher education. Seek consultation and ask questions until you are certain you have the whole story for your state’s position on supporting undocumented students so you can advise students and their parents of the financial options afforded them by the state, state university system and private colleges. Seek community support, private scholarships and any other source of funding that may be available regardless of a student’s immigration status. Be specific with college information they can use given their undocumented status.

Seek resources for undocumented students’ broader needs. These students may also have compounding problems such as poverty, homelessness, fear their parents will be deported and/or awareness that some people consider them a pariah and unwelcome in this country.

Pair undocumented students with other students. Some undocumented students may not qualify for ESL classes but still need help learning English. Pair them with others who may be in the same situation to help them learn English language. Research shows that cohort models and learning communities can help students thrive academically and socially. Students who share an experience together, especially an educational one, tend to do better together. For example, the Posse Foundation, founded in 1989, is an example of a successful organization in this area. The foundation’s efforts have led to a 90 percent graduation rate among their posses of 10 students they group together to support each other.

Understand students’ privacy rights of their educational record. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) generally prohibits school districts from providing third parties such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement information about students contained in student records. Directory information is accessible to many; therefore, school districts should reconsider making place of birth part of directory information. School districts should not include immigration status as part of a student’s educational records. If subpoenaed, consult your district’s legal office.

Seek wellness for yourself. School counselors face myriad confusing state and public/private college policies that can have a negative or positive impact on undocumented students’ access to higher education. The complexities and the barriers of this landscape may lead to compassion fatigue in school counselors working as social justice advocate. With hundreds of students in your caseload, the reality is you are limited in how much time and commitment you can put toward each student in your charge. Seek help from community agencies who also support undocumented students.

With help from school counselors and other supportive adults, undocumented students can achieve their dreams of a higher education.
Carolyn Stone, Ed.D., is a professor at the University of North Florida and chair of ASCA’s Ethics Committee. She can be reached at cstone@unf.edu.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
Through DACA, eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States as a child are protected from deportation. In addition to protection from deportation DACA gives immigrants a work permit. DACA does not provide a path for permanent residency or citizenship. Once a child receives DACA, that status is valid for two years and is eligible for renewal.
To be eligible for DACA, children must qualify under each category below:
  • You were under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012;
  • You first came to the United States before your 16th birthday;
  • You have lived continuously in the United States from June 15, 2007, until the present;
  • You were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time you apply;
  • You came to the United States without documents before June 15, 2012, or your lawful status expired as of June 15, 2012;
  • You are currently studying, or you graduated from high school or earned a certificate of completion of high school or GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or military (technical and trade school completion also qualifies); and
  • You haven’t been convicted of a felony, certain significant misdemeanors (including a single DUI), or three or more misdemeanors of any kind. Consult with an attorney about any contact you have had with law enforcement or immigration authorities.
(Information retrieved from http://undocu.berkeley.edu/legal-support-overview/what-is-daca/ and https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/consideration-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-daca)
Congress first introduced the DREAM Act in 2001, and it has come up for vote several times. However, it has failed to become law. The DREAM Act would provide current, former and future undocumented high-school graduates and GED recipients a pathway to U.S citizenship through college or the armed services. To be eligible for conditional lawful permanent resident status (LPR), individuals would need to be physically present in the United States for at least five years and be younger than 16 when they first arrived into the United States. The LPR status would be conditional and valid for six years. During this time the individual would be allowed to work, go to school or join the military. The conditional status would be removed, and the individuals would be granted LPR status after the six years, provided the individual has either completed two years in a program for a bachelor’s degree or served in the Armed Forces for at least two years. If an individual was discharged from the Armed Forces, an honorable discharge had to be received. Students eligible for the DREAM Act would not be eligible for federal grants; however, they would be eligible for federal work study and student loans.
(Information retrieved from www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/dream-act)