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Helping Undocumented Students Succeed


By: Leslie Colon '17

Poverty affects many individuals and families in the United States. Yet, some groups are affected more so than others. Discriminatory policies specifically target Hispanic immigrants, adding to the poverty and inequality that they face because of their documentation status. According to Pew Research Center, about 76% of the nation’s undocumented immigrant population are Hispanic (2009). Based on data collected in 2008 by the Census Bureau, undocumented immigrants are 4% of the nation’s population and 5.4% of its workforce. Their children, both undocumented and those born in the US, make up 6.8% of the students enrolled in the nation’s public-school system.

Undocumented Hispanics tend to have higher rates of poverty compared to the US born population. For instance, a third of the children of undocumented immigrants and a fifth of adult undocumented immigrants live in poverty. That is double the poverty rate for children of US born parents, 18% or for US born adults, 10% (Passel and Chon, 2009).

The poverty level for undocumented immigrants can be correlated to their educational level. For many immigrants, especially adults, education is not feasible for them. Therefore, they begin to work as soon as they arrive to the country. For instance, Hispanics fall behind all other groups when it comes to educational attainment. According to a report from The Atlantic, among second-generation Asian Americans, more than 50% receives a bachelor’s degree; for second-generation African Americans, it’s about 40%; for the overall white population, it’s roughly 35%. However, for children of Hispanic immigrants, less than 25% of the population hold a college-degree (White, 2015).

Today, young undocumented immigrants are being hurt from discriminatory policies. There are an estimated 65,000 students from low-income backgrounds who are ineligible for federal financial aid and most scholarships because they live in the United States without legal authorization from the US government (Diaz-Strong et al, 2011).

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a policy that can alleviate some of the inequality that young undocumented individuals face. DACA serves certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several guidelines allowing them to request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal ( The purpose of DACA is to protect eligible immigrant youth from deportation. There needs to be higher importance placed on protecting young undocumented individuals who are attending colleges and universities across the nation. Students should not be fearful, especially because these are young adults who have lived in the United States since young children.

The disparities between those who graduated high school and college degree holders are high. In 2012, the median income for bachelor’s or more was $45,500. For a high school graduate or equivalent, the median income was $28,000. That is a $17,5000 difference between these two cohorts. The widening earning gap of young adults by education will only continue to increase, as more jobs require post-secondary education degrees.

Historically, denying certain groups of people access to education, specifically higher education, has been a tool used to limit the political and economic power for those communities. DACA, is a policy that can help young undocumented immigrants set a positive trajectory of success while also giving them access to a post-secondary education that can advance their economic and social opportunities.

This issue of undocumented students being targeted because of the discriminatory and unjust policies in place, is not a far-flung issue to the Rutgers community. Rutgers student Carimer Andujar, is a junior in the School of Engineering. She has received a letter requesting her presence at an interview in Newark on May 9th with a deportation officer.

According to the Daily Targum, Carimer has been residing in the United States since she was four years old. She has been able attend Rutgers University under the protection of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Her DACA registration was set to expire April 28, 2017, and filed to renew it over five months ago. Though her registration has now been extended, Carimer is still at risk of being detained. According to recent estimates, there are about 450 undocumented students currently attending Rutgers (Daily Targum, 2017). Carimer is not the only student in our community that can be targeted because of their documentation status and be at risk for deportation or detention.

Undocumented immigrants are a population that at are at risk for various social issues. Immigrants are at risk of being in poverty, being exploited by their employers, segregated in communities with higher crime rates, and of being incarcerated at higher rates than other population groups. With the Trump administration, it is unclear whether policies such as DACA will be kept. Individuals protected by DACA, may lose their work authorization or may not be allowed to renew their work authorization.

Someone’s documentation status should not determine how they are treated by society, or their life outcomes. Social workers have helped vulnerable populations, and the immigrant population is a vulnerable group. This is a group that deserves the advocacy and empowerment that social workers can give to their clients. Advocate against discriminatory practices and policies that further jeopardize the life of immigrants and their children who oftentimes see the US as their home, especially during times when fear, stress, and anxiety levels are high because there is great uncertainty of what might happen next. As Carimer Andujar said in a statement, “but there’s still people who don’t have the opportunity to go to college that still need our assistance, and let’s not forget about them.” Together we can help the undocumented population, specifically the students that have done everything to try and succeed in a country that has placed many obstacles along their path.  



Diaz-Strong, Daysi, Gomez, Christina, Luna-Duarte, Maria E., and Meiners, Erica R. (2011). Purged: Undocumented students, financial aid policies, and access to higher education. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 10(2) 107-119

Dopico, Chloe and Herzog, Kira. (April 26, 2017). Community comes together to prevent ICE from detaining undocumented Rutgers student. The Daily Targum Retrieved from

Passel, Jeffrey S. and Cohn D’Vera. (2009). A portrait of unauthorized immigrants in the United States. Pew Research Center – Hispanic Trends Retrieved from

White, Gillian B. (2015) Are Hispanics finding a better life in the US? The Atlantic. Retrieved from

The rising cost of not going to college. (February 11, 2014).  Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

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