"Families immigrate to the United States constantly, and many of them bring children along with them. Immigrant adults with dubious legal status have it bad enough, but their kids face even more difficulty, unable to achieve their dreams in a country they consider home. About 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools every year, and their presence is not insignificant. Although they are guaranteed a public school education through grade 12, their future in college is much less certain. From federal Financial Aid restrictions to reduced opportunities, students with undocumented status face a lower quality of education and future careers than their legal classmates. Read on, and we'll explore several important facts about their experiences in the United States."
Often, undocumented youth are brought into the US by their parents or relatives, and spend more years here than their country of origin. It's usually a family decision to move, and students may be small children when this happens. In 2000, approximately 2.5 million undocumented youth under 18 were living in the US. Typically, undocumented students enter the US without authorization, or they enter legally but remain without authorization.
As undocumented youth are often brought into the US at a very young age, they may have no recollection of actually immigrating, and typically, no understanding of any legal arrangements that may have been made. In fact, some students have no idea that they are not legal US citizens until their late teens, when they apply for federal Financial Aid or begin looking for a job. This surprise can be devastating, as they are not able to pursue the college and career choices they may have been working toward.
Plyler v. Doe in 1982 included several points that help undocumented students in school. Through this law, schools must provide an equal education to all children, including the undocumented. In fact, they can't even ask for documentation of a child's immigration status, and schools can't use Social Security numbers as a prerequisite for enrollment. Students are further protected by the law that forbids school personnel from sharing information about a child's immigration status with any individual or institution, even government agencies. This means schools are a safe place for all students to receive a quality K-12 education.
UCLA's Center for Labor Research and Education's hearing and conference in 2007 revealed that although undocumented students may not have access to the same resources as legal US citizens, they often do very well in school. Many are honor students, student leaders, and athletes with high academic achievement. However, they may be held back upon graduation because they cannot access higher education or legal employment.
Undocumented students aren't able to move freely due to fear of deportation, which means they may miss out on opportunities that legal US citizens are able to take advantage of. Study abroad, trips with friends, and even transferring to a new school can be incredibly difficult for undocumented students. Additionally, some programs or careers require that students are legal citizens, including teacher certification and nurse registration. The undocumented do not have the opportunity to pursue these careers due to their status.
Although many are quick to assume that undocumented means illegal, undocumented students can be in a number of different situations. Some have applied for permanent residence or another type of status, but are still awaiting approval. Others have cases pending in either Immigration or Federal Courts, a process that can take several years to complete. In some extreme cases, even US citizens may be undocumented, due to issues with proof of their citizenship.
Since 2007, legislation has been pending for the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented students to qualify for immigration relief. Students who have been continuously present in the US for at least five years, were under 16 years of age at the time of entry into the US, and those who are able to demonstrate good moral character would qualify. Students would be given a pathway to citizenship through college or the armed forces, granting lawful permanent resident status after completing two years in a program for a bachelor's degree or higher, or at least two years of honorable military service. They would still not be eligible for federal education grants, but unlike current legislation, would be able to take advantage of federal work study and student loans. If passed, an estimated 2.1 million undocumented young adults might benefit from the DREAM Act.
Although undocumented immigrants can attend high school, not all of them do, lacking support and motivation. About 80,000 undocumented immigrants turn 18 every year, but of those, 16 to 20% of them will not graduate. Presumably, undocumented students do not see the value in a high school degree when they are not able to legally work, and may not be able to get grants or even attend college.
With many undocumented students failing to complete high school, it's not surprising that so many of them don't make it to college, either. According to the UCLA Labor Center, only five to 10% make it to college due to a lack of available Financial Aid. Even among undocumented students who have attended college, problems abound; many see family members deported, some have to drop out of school because they can't afford it, others have to put their education on hold to find work, and some even experience workplace raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, all of which can severely complicate completing a college degree.
Although federal law does not prevent admission of undocumented students, they may still face obstacles when getting into college. Financial Aid is important to many enrollees, including loans and grants. However, undocumented students are prohibited from receiving federal assistance. In many cases, they are also ineligible for assistance at the state level as well.
In 13 states, undocumented graduates of state high schools are allowed to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities. The states base eligibility on state school attendance and graduation. These states are as follows: Texas, Connecticut, California, Utah, Washington, New York, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Rhode Island, Nebraska, and New Mexico. With this legislation, undocumented students can save thousands on their tuition, making it easier to attend college.
Although legally, illegal aliens can't do anything with their high school or college degrees, as they can't work in the US, the reality may be different. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams reports, "current enforcement practices" result in illegal aliens being hired. Mehlman-Orozco points out, if illegal aliens are somehow finding jobs, they might as well be college educated.
Although 50,000 to 65,000 undocumented students graduate from US high schools each year, Education Week reports that many of them do not apply to college because it is "economically inaccessible." Still others do not take advantage of in-state tuition programs because they are not aware of them. And in other cases, even students who are aware of in-state tuition programs don't use them because their inability for financial aid means that college is still out of reach financially.
Although undocumented students cannot receive federal Financial Aid, and in some cases, state aid as well, there are other options. Organizations including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the United Negro College Fund, and the Salvadoran American Leadership and Educational Fund provide financial assistance to undocumented students. Additionally, schools themselves may offer Financial Aid to undocumented students, as higher learning institutions are able to set their own relevant policies.
For high achieving undocumented students, there is hope when it comes to being able to afford the cost of college, especially those who have their sights set on the Ivy League. Both Harvard and Stanford University offer full ride scholarships to undocumented students. Although it's a controversial choice, it does mean that undocumented students who do well enough to be admitted to some of the top schools in the nation might not have to worry about how they're going to pay for it all.
Under Federal Law, all schools are required to provide ALL students with equal access to a public education regardless of their or their parents' perceived or actual citizenship or immigration status.
Permissible enrollment practices:
requiring proof of residency within district through a copies of a phone or water bill
requiring proof of age through a copy of birth certificate
requiring a social security card OR completion of a social security card waiver form (This must be required of ALL students who enroll and not just a select group of individuals.)
denial of enrollment because birth certificate is from a foreign country
denial of enrollment because no social security card is available
information collection or review that is applied in a selective manner to specific groups of students
Attached is some newly-released information from the Office for Civil Rights concerning regulations governing the enrollment of immigrant/foreign-born students under Plyler v. Doe. Below are two documents, a letter of guidance and a document addressing frequently asked questions on the topic.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from denying a free public education to undocumented immigrant children regardless of their immigrant status. The court emphatically declared that school systems are not agents for enforcing immigration law, and determined that the burden undocumented aliens may place on an educational system is not an accepted argument for excluding or denying educational services to any student.