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The Fight of the Undocumented

Updated: Mar 23

Changes within the US affect undocumented students' ability to pursue education. During Trump's Administration, restrictive policies caused alarm to DACA recipients. Shifts have impacted students' access to education and their future.

Education is the most beautiful illuminating pathway, guiding individuals toward the realization of their dreams. Most young adults envision their first paycheck, applying to colleges, acceptances and opportunities for scholarships and financial aid—all opportunities within reach to any U.S citizen. 

In June 2012, “President Obama announced DACA, an executive action to lift the shadow of deportation for young people who came to the United States as undocumented immigrants.” DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a policy that allows a limited number of undocumented individuals who were brought to the United States as children to receive a two-year renewable period of deferred action from deportation and to become eligible to receive a work permit. These individuals are also known as dreamers. In 2017, during Donald Trump’s presidency, significant changes were underway for the DACA program. First, it was announced that the DACA program would be undergoing changes, and later in 2017, DACA was shut down. Dreamers found themselves trapped and fighting with limitations and challenges. The rescission of DACA stripped away protection for these individuals, along with the threat of them being stripped away from their families. Recently, the Biden administration has expressed their support for DACA and has ensured to continue strengthening the program. The significance of programs like DACA cannot be overstated. They serve as lifelines for undocumented students, offering a pathway to education and economic stability. Yet, the constant threat of policy reversals highlights the uncertain nature of their circumstances.

Advocating for legal protections for students could help ensure they have equal opportunities and provide them with a sense of security and freedom. Because of their legal status, undocumented students do not have access to apply for internships, work-study programs and post-graduate employment opportunities. In 2001, California and Texas passed AB540, which granted undocumented individuals the opportunity to be considered “in-state” students, allowing them to pay the same tuition rates as residents. This was a significant step forward because they were previously categorized as “international students,” making higher education unaffordable and inaccessible for many. While students with citizenship have access to federal benefits such as Pell Grants, financial aid and federal loans, DACA students only have the Dream Act (2010) to assist with funding their education. However, this support is insufficient and has limitations on budget adjustments. Undocumented individuals often rely on stipends for income and are frequently overlooked for jobs and internships. Additionally, they face restrictions on how they can use their financial aid, limiting their freedom to meet basic needs such as purchasing groceries, transportation, necessities and health. Programs like DACA, The Dream Act and AB540 have made higher education more accessible to undocumented individuals. The journey towards higher education for undocumented individuals in the United States is fraught with challenges and uncertainties.

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