At Diversity Abroad, our mission is to increase the number of diverse and underrepresented students that are aware of and take advantage of global opportunities. Recently, I attended a NAFSA session that delved into the unique needs of undocumented college students. As one of the most underrepresented student groups, I was curious to learn more about how those of us in international education can better support these students. During this session, professionals that work closely with undocumented and/or otherwise underrepresented students (first generation, high financial need, etc.) discussed this issue at length, from the stigma students face once identified as undocumented, to their own personal challenges dealing with “imposter syndrome” in college. This session really made me reflect on what can be done to better support undocumented students -- aiding them both to succeed in college, as well as potentially study abroad.
I discovered that there is still so much to learn about what makes their experience as students so much more challenging than any other student group. As institutions await or take action based on federal and state level policies (see: DREAM Act definitions below) dictating what they can provide, educators find themselves in a unique position overall, but especially if and when those students express interest in studying abroad. So what do we know about undocumented students and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and how can we ensure that our work ultimately helps us maintain student dignity within the process?
Below are some definitions of the various ways students may choose to identify. These have been provided by the presenters of the NAFSA session, Best Practices for Working with Undocumented and ‘DACA’-mented Students:
A foreign national residing in the U.S. without legal immigration status. It includes persons who entered the U.S. without inspection and proper permission from the U.S. government, and those who entered with a legal status that is no longer valid.
An immigrant youth who has obtained benefits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (work authorized and deferred action from removal) that was established by Executive Action on June 15, 2012. These benefits do NOT provide lawful status.
Federal DREAM Act:
A proposal that will lead to legal status for undocumented youth who entered the U.S. before the age of 16, have good conduct, other requirements
State DREAM Act:
Vary by state, do not give lawful status, but can allow undocumented students access to in-state tuition, financial aid, and/or other benefits
DACA and the DREAM Act are NOT the same, but one of the key benefits for ‘DACA’-mented students is the potential to travel abroad with advanced permission from the Department of Homeland Security, for employment, humanitarian and of course educational purposes -- including study abroad.
It’s important to understand the mere fact that students self-identifying as undocumented is both an incredibly courageous and frightening declaration. Meng So, the Director at UC Berkeley’s Undocumented Student’s Program (USP), spoke about how USP began in part due to one student’s experience with a UC Berkeley professor he had admired. After seeking out this professor for a potential mentorship and revealing his personal hardships to get into college, this professor not only refused to be a mentor; he also questioned how that student was even admitted in the first place.
Unlike the aforementioned UC Berkeley professor, I believe it is every educator’s responsibility to put personal politics aside and provide support to those students who are courageous enough to expose their hardships and ask for help. While some educators may not understand the stigma associated with referring to students as “illegal,” it is important to have this conversation at an office, if not at the institution-wide level. Doing so can truly transform the environment in which these students find themselves, and allow educators to become allies in a greater social justice movement.
While we await for the federal DREAM Act to further bring peace of mind to some students, it is my hope that undocumented and ‘DACA’-mented students can at least feel safe in confiding in international educators about how they identify, and that we can continue seeking opportunities to support undocumented students to succeed -- either on campus or abroad.