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DACA Latest News

The future of undocumented students is at stake as the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) begins to hear arguments regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Enacted by the Obama administration in 2012, the program sought to grant temporary protection to children brought into the United States illegally.

In addition to deferring deportation, the DACA program gave many undocumented students the ability to apply for work permits, obtain health insurance, and qualify for financial aid to pursue a college education.

A SCOTUS decision to end DACA would create uncertainty for hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents. Many only know a life in the United States, making deportation a frightening possibility.

On the 2016 presidential campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump made ending DACA a priority, and his administration stopped processing applications for undocumented youth in 2017. In response, advocates for the DACA program have taken the battle to the courts.

Up until now, court challenges have kept many benefits in place for undocumented students, but that battle is now set to culminate with a SCOTUS decision that will determine whether the administration can legally end the program.

A SCOTUS decision to end DACA would create uncertainty for hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents. Many only know a life in the United States, making deportation a frightening possibility.

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."

The Obama administration introduced the DACA program as a stop-gap to prevent deportation for the millions of undocumented children living in the United States. This gave individuals an opportunity to continue on with their lives, though it didn't promise them citizenship.

Acquiring DACA status, which must be renewed every two years, requires individuals to meet certain requirements. For example, they must have been brought in to the United States prior to turning 18, must attend school, and must pass a background check.

[About] 1 million undocumented children under 18 and 4.4 million individuals under 30 live in the United States. As of January 2019, approximately 680,000 held DACA status.

DREAMers range in age from 16 years old to 38 years old, and they 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. The vast majority 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 United States, 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 United States. As January 2019, approximately 680,000 held DACA status.

Many undocumented students want to pursue higher education, but the current political climate makes that a difficult goal to pursue. With the DACA program at risk, the future is uncertain for a majority of undocumented immigrants.

Can Undocumented Immigrants Go to College?

The Trump administration is working to dismantle protections for undocumented students, which makes their options unclear. It is possible for undocumented students to attend college, but doing so comes with a unique set of challenges.

One challenge 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.

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.

One challenge 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.

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.

So while 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 United States. However, fewer than 10% of them pursue higher education. Even though it is legal for them to apply, the uncertainty they face when it comes to acceptance and their ability to afford it may prevent them from attending college.

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] 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.

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 sholarships 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

State Higher Education Policies Toward Undocumented Students

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

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington

Benefit

State financial aid is available for qualifying undocumented students, including those with DACA status.

States Offering Benefit

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Washington

Benefit

State governments allow public universities to use private funding sources to support financial aid for undocumented students.

States Offering Benefit

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Washington

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures

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 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 citienship 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.

However, the current political climate may prevent this bill from passing, which puts the future of millions of undocumented immigrants in question. So undocumented students must continue to move forward with uncertainty until SCOTUS renders its decision.

What Will Happen to DACA and Undocumented Students?

The current political climate puts undocumented students in the limelight. While Republicans argue the program is illegal, many DACA recipients have lived in the United States their entire lives and are, for all intents and purposes, Americans. Removing protections leaves them unsure of their future and without a place to call home.

The current make-up of the Supreme Court leans conservative, which makes it less likely the DACA program will be maintained. The impact of a decision that eliminates DACA remains largely unknown, but many undocumented students could face deportation or lose access to education, work, or other benefits received through the program.

Whatever SCOTUS decides, challenges related to DACA may still emerge from the lower courts. States may also continue to offer protections for undocumented students or fight the high court's ruling. This may give students more time to determine their options and make a decision.

Resources for Undocumented Students