Undocumented students face unique hurdles when applying to college. Like many, they see college as the first step toward creating the life they want – toward chasing their own American Dream. They do not want their undocumented status to prevent them from achieving those goals. 

Fortunately, there are programs and laws at both the state and federal level that give undocumented students the chance to choose the right college or university, regardless of status.

College enrollment rates for undocumented students 

Some estimates claim that around 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school in the United States every year. Their college enrollment rates are very low, from 5% to 10%, and this is probably in part because they may assume they have no options. It’s time to break that myth once and for all so that every young person can pursue the future he or she wants.  

The role of DACA

The first thing to consider is the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, which started under the Obama administration, was threatened during the Trump administration, and will be protected under the Biden administration

The goal of this program is to recognize that these young people, often referred to as “Dreamers”, were brought to the United States as children and thus did not choose to come here. Through no fault of their own, they find themselves without status in a country they were brought to at a young age. We recognize that these circumstances demand some kind of accommodation rather than deportation. The DACA program does just that in providing them with temporary legal status so they can live, work and study in the land they grew up in. Their right to an education is protected, and they can attend classes — and thrive in the college environment — without fear of government interference.    

Can the school report undocumented students?  

Dreamers may be worried that applying for college will expose them to the risk of notice by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), the agency that places people in deportation proceedings. Students should rest assured knowing that the school cannot report them to ICE for being undocumented. This is true for everyone involved in the college application process, from financial aid counselors to admissions officers. They are prohibited from disclosing an applicant’s status to ICE by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Please know that the law is on your side in this situation. Students should pursue an education without fear.  

Does being undocumented help in the admissions process? 

It certainly can. Unlike some, students from immigrant families probably have a great appreciation for the opportunity to attend college. Immigrant families frequently overcome serious hardships to get to the U.S. and to allow their children the opportunity for higher education.  

At Antonini & Cohen, we want to help you achieve your goals. We can use our vast experience with many students just like you to help you understand the implications of your particular immigration status and apply for DACA if eligible. Visit us online or call us at (404) 850-9394.

Marshall Cohen
Marshall Cohen

Marshall Cohen is one of the founding principals of Antonini & Cohen. Admitted to the Georgia Bar in 1989, he has practiced immigration law exclusively for over 30 years. Mr. Cohen practices all areas of immigration law including family and employment cases, temporary and permanent visas, naturalization, deportation defense, and federal litigation.

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