Department of Education Releases Resource Guide to Support Undocumented Students
Posted By Monica Harvin on December 4, 2015 at 4:02 pm
Though many DACA students, also known as DREAMers, continue to find themselves in immigration status limbo at a national level, the Department of Education recently took a step forward in building capacity in U.S. high schools and higher education institutions to provide guidance for undocumented students. This came in late October in the form of a Resource Guide for supporting undocumented youth in secondary and postsecondary settings.
The Department of Education holds that the Resource Guide “does not mandate or prescribe practices, models, or other activities,” but rather provides tips for educators, school personnel, and institutions to implement at their own discretion. For higher education, the Resource Guide suggests schools “create open and welcome environments, provide services and resources to help guide undocumented students, communicate and demonstrate support for undocumented youth, provide peer-to-peer support and relationship-building opportunities, and build staff capacity and knowledge of relevant issues.”
The Resource Guide also lays out the 19 states where undocumented students are eligible for in-state tuition, as well as states like California, Texas, New Mexico, Washington, and Minnesota, where these students have access to state financial aid to attend college.
At a recent forum on immigration reform, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders proposed going further than state-by-state or school-by-school policies on higher education for undocumented youth. He argued that these students should become “immediately eligible” for financial aid and in-state tuition, regardless of whether or not there’s an in-state tuition bill for undocumented students where they live.
These promises may offer hope to undocumented students, especially those living in states like Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina, where they are barred from in-state tuition benefits and even enrollment in some higher education institutions.
However, the question of how to ensure schools will implement such policies and adopt the recommendations of tools like the Department of Education’s Resource Guide still remains. Some schools have certainly made important strides in providing the services and support that undocumented students need to succeed in college. Nevertheless, even in states that have in-state tuition laws, there remain many schools at which undocumented students are unable to access to these benefits.
Take Florida for example, which passed House Bill 851 in July 2014. The bill allows for undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Florida’s public higher education institutions. In northwest Florida, however, no undocumented students have used their out-of-state tuition waivers to attend local colleges, according to a recent study by the Florida College Access Network.
This points to the potential role of schools as gatekeepers of information and determining whether or not undocumented students can attend institutions of higher education using the benefits they’re eligible for under state laws – or under any potential, future action at the federal level. State and federal lawmakers will have to keep these realities in mind as they continue to chart the course of undocumented students.
Information travels by word of mouth, no official help from schools
In an interview with GoodCall, Monica Garcia describes her access to IDEAS, a peer-to-peer support group for undocumented students, and to people at the UCLA Labor Center as critical to finding information and resources to help her as an undocumented student at the University of California, Los Angeles. She says, “A lot was word of mouth and became easier once I was more open about things.” She first opened up about being undocumented at a meeting for Women Active in Letters and Social Change, MALCS for its initials in Spanish. The women there connected her with the organizations she used as resources on campus at UCLA.
“Once I felt safe, I also came out to a trusted professor who helped me find a job,” she says. This really had a significant impact on her as a low-income student. A librarian at UCLA, she says, also provided her with the academic guidance that helped her earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees there.
Later, Garcia attended Harvard University’s Master’s in Public Health program. She describes the situation there as more “hush hush” for being undocumented. She became involved with the Institute of Politics’ Policy Program, a working group of undergraduate students who she mentored, and who were “eager to learn about my experience and people I knew with similar stories,” she says. She found more than 10 undocumented students at the undergraduate and graduate levels and connected with them. Harvard, she says, was also “lots of word of mouth and not much official help.”
Today, she is Founder and CEO of Monica Garcia Consulting, a consulting company on campaign strategy, research, and marketing for organizations. She’s also worked as a consultant at Stanford Health Care and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. She describes the key to her success as “compassionate and empathetic people” who have helped her along her academic and professional careers.
Increasing access to information and support for undocumented students
The present, rapidly changing state, national, and school policy frameworks surrounding undocumented youth creates a situation where undocumented students may not receive the information they need to make informed decisions about pursuing a degree. Garcia’s experience as a university student in a state like California – where laws exist for undocumented students to access in-state tuition and financial aid – points to the need for increased action at the school level to get this information to students.
Tools like the Department of Education’s Resource Guide to educate teachers, school counselors, and other staff at the high school and postsecondary levels on how to support undocumented students are critical to ensuring these students are well-informed about higher education options available to them, support networks are in place, and for communicating official school support for undocumented students.