Immigration Status Creates Barriers Restricting Undocumented Students from Attending College

Edwin is an exceptional student. Throughout his high school career, he had taken 12 Advanced Placement classes including calculus and computer science. He is a mentor and tutor to peers in his school. He has also taken a handful of college courses to get ahead for attending college in the fall. As valedictorian for his graduating high school class, Edwin had big dreams for going to a prestigious college and pursue the American Dream. However, there was a roadblock getting in the way: his immigration status.

Last month, the Washington Post released a daunting story about Edwin detailing his experiences moving to the U.S. and making great academic achievements at the District’s Bell Multicultural

High School. At nine years old, Edwin made the journey from El Salvador with his father to Washington state. Upon moving to the US, Edwin did not know any English.

Edwin is an “undocumented immigrant”. Therefore, he cannot access federal student loans. For undocumented students, the only options for attending college is to either pay the tuition in full, or get scholarships. Fortunately for Edwin, he was accepted into Princeton University, a college that offers a significant discount for students who come from families that make less than $65,000 a year. He plans to study the field of computer engineering.

However, not everyone who comes to this country has a happy ending.

In a 2009 study conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, data exposes the low rates of high school graduation among undocumented students. Only 72% of undocumented students graduate from high school. Of these graduates, only 61% pursue a college degree. Of these students, many will not be able to finish their degrees.

Creating a more accessible pathway to higher education for undocumented students such as Edwin is essential for constructing opportunity to pursue the American Dream.

A recent bill has been proposed to offer undocumented students a better chance at attaining U.S. citizenship. As a component of the S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, having at least two years or more of college education speeds up the process for legalization for undocumented students. This new bill aims to give undocumented students the tools to getting citizenship. However, the issue is that these students cannot access federal student loans. In some states, immigration status can completely disqualify a student from pursuing higher education, even if they have graduate high school.

Under the Obama administration, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy was created in order to preserve the American Dream for young people entering into the U.S. The DACA protects immigrants who arrived as children before 2008 from being deported, while also offering a work permit to help secure their stay in the U.S. For college students such as Edwin, this creates enormous opportunities to attend college.

With the crafting of new legislation, there are changes and new policies being made to help young immigrants get a fresh start in the U.S. by pursuing higher education. In this modern day and age, having a college education helps break the poverty cycle by opening up avenues to higher paying jobs. If young immigrants can access federal student loans, easier pathways to citizenship and financial stability will be established.