Strengthening support for undocumented dreamers

Campuses now guide a vulnerable population on financial aid, the legal system and academic research

With the specter of a federal crackdown on illegal immigration looming, higher ed institutions are finding ways to better serve undocumented students, and also protect their identities.

Defining the needs of the undocumented is difficult, as many of these students fear that revealing personal information could jeopardize themselves as well as their families, says Norma Yesina Mendoza, program coordinator for the Dreamer Resource Center at Sacramento State. Many of these children (often referred to as “dreamers”) were brought to the U.S. illegally by their undocumented parents.  

Sacramento State began to organize workshops and informational events for its undocumented population in 2015. Its first on-campus event was a panel in which 12 undocumented students shared their experiences on campus and beyond. “The students felt there wasn’t a lot of institutional support for them,” says Mendoza. “They had to be their own advocates.”

Sidebar: Planning and marketing events for undocumented students

The university’s Serna Center, a resource for Hispanic female students, used a $30,000 grant from Associated Students Inc. to hire and train staff in the assistance of undocumented students. There are federal grants for legal immigrant student services, but none currently available for undocumented students, says Mendoza.

Dreamer Resource Center staff, plus some faculty members, attended training at Cal State, Long Beach, to learn more about immigration reform and current policy. They also learned about the unique conditions experienced by undocumented students, and participated in activities to better understand the needs of this population.

And Sacramento State’s workshop series for undocumented students covers an array of topics, from navigating the American health care system to applying for graduate school.

A recent session encouraged undocumented students to get involved in academic research, says Mendoza. Rutgers University-Camden in New Jersey trains faculty and administrators on immigration policy, on creating a comfortable campus atmosphere and on finding community resources for the undocumented population.

“We want to give our team confidence in their knowledge about a complicated topic,” says Mary Beth Daisey, vice chancellor for student affairs with Rutgers-Camden. “Faculty want to help, even if they aren’t sure how.”

Rutgers-Camden recently held its first college fair for undocumented students. Sister campuses in New Brunswick and Newark began hosting similar fairs in 2015.

Topics included how to apply for college without a social security number, how to navigate the path to citizenship, and how to be considered for school aid if federal is not available. In one-on-one sessions, counselors and lawyers offered personalized advice for prospective students and their families.

The fair was not advertised locally. Instead, community partners (as well as the law school, which offered legal counseling to local students) spread word about the event.

Rutgers and Sacramento plan to offer on-demand viewing of upcoming workshops and informational sessions for individuals who are not able to or who are scared to attend these events. “We can’t change what happens outside, or sometimes even within, our institutions,” says Mendoza. “But we can make these students feel welcome.”


Most Popular