Understanding Legal Resources for Undocumented Students

Learn from a legal expert about important tips and legal resources for undocumented students attending college.
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Cobretti D. Williams, Ph.D.
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Cobretti D. Williams, Ph.D. (he/him), is a scholar, writer, and editor. Cobretti's research and writing focuses on the experiences of historically excluded students and faculty and staff in higher education. His work has been published in the Journal...
Updated on June 20, 2023
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Mackenzie is an editor for diversity, equity & inclusion at BestColleges. Mack researches disability justice & accessibility in higher education in their communication master’s program at the University of Washington. With a strong belief that advoca...
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Navigating college life can be stressful — especially for undocumented students concerned about their immigration status.

To understand the various legal considerations undocumented students may face during college, we spoke with Maritza Agundez, Esq., the Deputy Director of Legal Affairs at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA). She identified some helpful tips and legal resources that are important for undocumented students to know.

Editor's Note: We've edited this interview for clarity.

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What is the current status of DACA? Do you believe the Biden administration's promise for progress?

The current status of DACA is being determined by an ongoing court case in a Texas federal court. As of now, everyone can apply for DACA, but first-time applicants will be put on hold, and the result of those applications is unknown. There is no change to renewal applications, and people with DACA should renew and may still request travel under advance parole.

The Biden administration initially reacted to the court case stating it would comply but provide a more robust response in the future. The administration also continues its support of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people in the U.S., including an expedited process for DACA recipients.

Are undocumented students protected on college campuses? Are there ways institutions can legally protect undocumented students?

Each state has a different approach regarding undocumented students. I practice and am licensed in the state of California. On California campuses, student immigrants benefit from the protection of SB54 — a law in California that prevents the use of local or state police resources for federal immigration enforcement.

Institutions can contribute to this protection by providing adequate training and issuing best practices to all local law enforcement and private security used on campuses. In addition, institutions can invite legal service providers to present to campuses about your rights on campus and invite law enforcement to be part of the outreach events.

What resources or materials should undocumented students have in case of legal challenges?

CHIRLA recommends that individuals arm themselves with red cards containing important information and directions about enforcing constitutional rights when faced with law enforcement.

All students should also have a list of phone numbers or contact information for a local attorney, nonprofit, or their county's rapid response network information — in which most California counties have a phone number available to the public-facing imminent immigration action and can put the caller in touch with one of their volunteer attorneys.

What educational opportunities are available for advocates of undocumented students?

CHIRLA can help students seeking immigration legal services and has on-campus locations at colleges across California and a direct hotline for DACA and other services.

There are also webinars available from other nonprofit organizations, such as the Immigration Legal Resource Center and American Immigration Lawyers Association, many of which are free. Finally, CHIRLA recommends viewing its channel on YouTube, as numerous videos discussing a host of immigration topics relevant to the lives of our undocumented students.

Editor's Note: This article contains general information and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a professional advisor before making decisions about legal issues.


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With Advice From

Deputy Director of Legal Affairs at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)

Portrait of Maritza Agundez, Esq.

Maritza Agundez, Esq.

Maritza is the Deputy Director of Legal Affairs at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA). In her current role at CHIRLA, she provides legal advice, interpretation, and guidance to senior management and directors regarding government contracts, state/federal regulatory requirements, and compliance. She has over 15 years of experience in nonprofit management and supervises a team of attorneys, paralegals, accredited representatives, and subcontractors. Prior to CHIRLA, Maritza worked at the Mexican Consulate where she managed legal immigration intakes at mobile consulate locations throughout Los Angeles County. Maritza received her juris doctorate from Southwestern Law School, where she received two CALI awards in Property and Legal Professions and was a Federal Judicial extern to the Honorable S. James Otero.