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Young undocumented immigrants are fighting for increased opportunities to go to college as they face a backlash in some states to block them and new federal policies that put their families in greater danger of deportation.
The path to college already was demoralizing: guidance counselors who told them it wasn’t possible; scholarships that require Social Security numbers; states that charge them higher tuition; and federal loans and Pell grants that are off-limits.
Since last fall’s presidential election, the students are confronting worrisome new questions about safety from immigration authorities and whether they’ll be able to use the degrees they’re earning.
Donald Trump campaigned for president on a promise to end an Obama-era program that allows childhood arrivals to apply for temporary relief from deportation and two-year work permits. The program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, has benefited nearly 800,000 young people since 2012.
The ability to work has brought college more within reach for those young immigrants, though their numbers are still low.
“When you look at the college-going rates for those that don’t have legal status, the rate is less than half [of their citizen and legal immigrant peers]” said William Perez, an associate professor at Claremont Graduate University. “The number one reason for distress and anxiety is finances, even more than the concern about deportation. That’s how powerful the role of finances is for undocumented students.”
The attorneys general of 10 states have threatened to sue the Trump administration if it doesn’t phase out DACA by Sept. 5.
APM Reports began interviewing college students with DACA before the election and followed them through spring semester. Their reflections on higher education include experiences at community colleges where the bulk of undocumented students enroll and at elite colleges that can offer full rides to international students living within U.S. borders. They are children of construction workers and dishwashers, navigating college as the first in their families. They share a determination to make something of themselves in the country they call home.