DACA News and Information for Undocumented Students
- The Supreme Court recently rejected President Trump's proposal to end the DACA program.
- Dreamers can continue to attend college in the U.S. without fear of immediate deportation.
- Undocumented students do not typically qualify for financial aid for college.
- Certain states offer more financial and educational benefits to undocumented students.
DACA Latest News
For nearly three years, the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has been at stake, putting approximately 700,000 young immigrants at risk of deportation.
But President Donald Trump's attempt to dismantle DACA came to a sudden halt on June 18, 2020, when the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled against the program's immediate termination.
In a defense of the decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, "We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. … We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action."
Former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden applauded the decision in a statement made shortly after the ruling. "The Supreme Court's ruling today is a victory made possible by the courage and resilience of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients who bravely stood up and refused to be ignored," he said.
“The joy of today’s victory does not erase the difficult road ahead. We know that much work remains to be done. But I will continue to stand with DACA recipients, their parents, and their families at every step …”
While the Trump administration may try again to end the program using a stronger justification for its termination, such a process "will take months or years," according to Cornell Law School Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr.
Enacted by the Obama administration in 2012, DACA grants temporary protection to children brought into the U.S. by undocumented parents. In addition to deferring deportation, the program gives many undocumented students the ability to apply for work permits, obtain health insurance, and qualify for financial aid to pursue a college education.
On the 2016 presidential campaign trail, then-candidate Trump made ending DACA a priority, and his administration stopped processing applications for undocumented youths in 2017. In response, advocates for the DACA program took the battle to the courts.
Up until now, court challenges have kept many benefits in place for undocumented students. With the recent SCOTUS decision to maintain the DACA program, these benefits will remain active indefinitely, marking a victory for undocumented students across the country.
DACA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What Is an Undocumented Student?
In 2001, the Dream Act was presented to Congress as a way to provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrant children. The legislation failed to pass but led to the creation of the DACA program. Its link to the Dream Act resulted in DACA recipients earning the nickname "Dreamers."
Most Dreamers, who range in age from 16-38 years old, come from Mexico and settled in California, Texas, Illinois, or New York.
The Obama administration introduced the DACA program as a stop-gap to prevent deportation for the millions of undocumented children living in the U.S. This gave individuals an opportunity to continue on with their lives, though it didn't promise citizenship.
Acquiring DACA status, which must be renewed every two years, requires individuals to meet certain requirements. For example, they must have been brought to the U.S. before the age of 18, must attend school, and must pass a background check.
Dreamers range in age from 16-38 years old and originate from over 150 different countries. The vast majority come from Mexico, which accounts for nearly 80% of Dreamers. Other countries of origin include El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, South Korea, and Brazil. Most Dreamers settled in California, Texas, Illinois, and New York.
In addition to the fear of deportation, an individual's undocumented status may negatively impact their ability to pursue an education. In the U.S., education through 12th grade is guaranteed by law — but higher education is not. Possessing DACA status typically allows a student to attend a university and access critical benefits like financial aid.
How Many Undocumented Students Are in the U.S.?
According to data collected by the Pew Research Center, about 1 million undocumented children under 18 and 4.4 million individuals under 30 live in the U.S. As of January 2019, approximately 680,000 held DACA status.
Many undocumented students want to pursue higher education, but today's tumultuous political climate can make that a difficult goal to pursue. With the recent SCOTUS ruling in favor of the DACA program, undocumented immigrants can — at least temporarily — breathe a sigh of relief and continue planning their academic futures.
Can Undocumented Immigrants Go to College?
Despite the Supreme Court's refusal to end the DACA program, the Trump administration is still working to dismantle protections for undocumented students, making their options unclear. It is possible for undocumented students to attend college, but doing so comes with a unique set of challenges.
One challenge that undocumented students pursuing a college education may face is paying for school. Due to their undocumented status, students may not qualify for financial aid, grants, or other types of assistance, making paying for college difficult.
Undocumented students may not qualify for financial aid, grants, or other types of assistance, making paying for college difficult.
Some states even prohibit undocumented students from attending public institutions, which takes away affordable options. Some institutions won't enroll them at all. Also, many states do not allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tution regardless of where they live. These challenges add to the financial burden of attending college.
Another difficulty immigrants may face is their ability to find work to help pay for tuition. Even those with DACA status or visas may encounter certain restrictions, making it more difficult to navigate their financial options.
Outside of these challenges, it is legal for undocumented students to attend college. Prospective students should carefully research state regulations and the rules at local schools before applying to programs. This ensures they choose an institution that welcomes them regardless of their status.
Even though the future is unclear, undocumented students should continue pursuing their goals. However, they should also prepare themselves for any outcome and remain informed of their options.
How Many Undocumented Students Go to College?
Recent estimates show that nearly 100,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year in the U.S.; however, less than 10% pursue a higher education. Though it is legal for them to apply to colleges, the uncertainty they face when it comes to acceptance and their ability to afford it may prevent them from attending.
Do Undocumented Immigrants Qualify for Financial Aid?
Navigating the world of financial aid as an undocumented student is a complicated endeavor. The short answer is that you may qualify for financial aid, but it depends on where you live and your status.
Individuals with DACA status or another form of protection, such as a student visa, may find it easier to qualify for government financial aid because they technically have legal status allowing them to remain in the country.
Securing financial aid for undocumented students largely depends on the state they live in and its laws.
However, some state laws prohibit undocumented students, including those with DACA status, from qualifying for in-state tuition rates, accessing federal or state financial aid, or earning scholarships or grants. Some even bar students from attending public institutions at all.
So while there is no overarching law prohibiting undocumented college students from accessing financial aid, it largely depends on the state a student lives in and its laws. Prospective students should thoroughly research their state's policies regarding financial aid to determine their rights before applying to an institution.
Undocumented students may also consider working with local immigration advocates or lawyers to ensure they can access every resource available to them. To get a general sense of options, check out the table in the following section, which lists the states currently offering assistance for undocumented students pursuing a college education.
What States Assist Undocumented Students?
Several U.S. states offer benefits to help undocumented students attend college. The table below details benefits and lists states where you can find them
- In-State Tuition and Public Admission
Benefit: Undocumented students qualify for in-state tuition rates if they graduate from a public high school, qualify for admission to a state institution, and commit to applying for legal status when eligible.
States Offering Benefit
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- State Financial Aid
Benefit: State financial aid is available for qualifying undocumented students, including those with DACA status.
States Offering Benefit
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- Public Schools and Private Funding
Benefit: State governments allow public universities to use private funding sources to support financial aid for undocumented students.
States Offering Benefit
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
Do Dreamers Get Free College?
It is a common misconception that Dreamers get free college. Their undocumented status is more likely to preclude them from obtaining financial assistance, to say nothing of free tuition. Unlike attending grade school, which is a right guaranteed by federal law, a college education is not a given for many undocumented students.
While they do not get free tuition, several states allow undocumented students or individuals with DACA status to apply for financial aid or scholarships or to pay in-state tuition rates to ease the finanical burden of attending college. To qualify, students must typically meet certain requirements, such as graduating from a public high school or proving residency.
Can Dreamers Become U.S. Citizens?
Undocumented inviduals, including those with DACA status, do not currently have a clear pathway to citizenship. However, public support for offering Dreamers a path to U.S. citizenship through the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 seems to be growing.
The program seeks to allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for citizenship if they prove U.S. residency for at least four years and were under the age of 18 when they entered the country. They must also pass a background check and currently attend or have graduated from high school or a qualifying credential program.
While the bill passed the House of Representatives in June 2019, it remains unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate. As such, undocumented students must continue to move forward with a level of caution.
The Future of DACA and Undocumented Students
The current political climate puts undocumented students in the limelight. While Republicans argue that the program is illegal, many DACA recipients have lived in the U.S. their entire lives and are, for all intents and purposes, American. Removing protections leaves them unsure of their future and without a place to call home.
Even though SCOTUS rejected the Trump administration's proposal to terminate DACA, this decision offers only a temporary reprieve for undocumented students, as President Trump could still later move forward with a stronger and clearer justification to stop the program.
If DACA is ultimately phased out, thousands of undocumented students could face deportation or lose access to education, work, and other benefits.
Additionally, because SCOTUS leans conservative, it's less likely that the DACA program will be permanently maintained. Should the Trump administration eventually manage to phase out DACA, thousands of undocumented students could face deportation or lose access to education, work, and other benefits received through the program.
Regardless of what happens next, the recent SCOTUS ruling in favor of DACA represents a step in the right direction for Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants.
Resources for Undocumented Students
DISCLAIMER: The above is intended as an information resource only; we are not a legal organization and we cannot give legal advice. Please contact an attorney for advice regarding any legal issue.