The report, "In the Shadows of the Ivory Tower: Undocumented Undergraduates and the Liminal State of Immigration Reform," is based on a yearlong survey of 909 undergraduate students from 55 countries. Participants attended a range of two- and four-year public and private colleges.
Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, dean of UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Robert T. Teranishi, a professor of education there, were two of the principal investigators on the study. Mr. Suárez-Orozco said the survey was significant because such students are often stigmatized, making it "very difficult to get good-quality research" on the challenges they face. The amount of data collected through the study makes it the first and largest of its kind, he said.
The researchers tracked such factors as age upon arrival in the United States, household income, and areas of study. Eighty-eight percent of participants were under 12 before they immigrated to the United States with their families. Sixty-one percent said they had come from families living on annual household incomes of below $30,000.
Financial barriers leave these students constantly thinking about paying for college. A significant share of participants in UCLA's study—56 percent—said they were "extremely concerned" about financing their education (such students are ineligible to receive federal aid). Of the respondents who "stopped out" of college, more than 70 percent cited money concerns as the reason.
But the sources of anxiety don't end there. In addition to feeling weighed down by financial burdens, respondents also spoke about a lack of acceptance on their respective campuses. Almost half of respondents reported being treated unfairly by financial-aid officers. Fifty-five percent reported being mistreated by fellow students.
A 2012 executive action known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, granted a temporary reprieve from deportation to students who had been brought to the United States illegally as children. That action also made it easier for those students to get scholarships, internships, and work permits. Eighty-five percent of survey respondents who qualified for deferred action said the program had had a positive impact on their education, but concerns about its limitations remain.
For one, a large portion of deferred-action students—nearly 90 percent—reported anxiety over the possible deportation of their friends and families. Only 70 percent of non-DACA students reported the same.
"Once they themselves feel some of the protections that are afforded by DACA," said Mr. Suárez-Orozco, "there is a skyrocketing awareness of the threat of deportation to those around them."
Mr. Suárez-Orozco called it "college survival guilt." Once the students realize they're protected, they wonder about the future of their family members.
On paper, deferred-action students seem to be reaping the benefits of being spared deportation. But beneath the hard work is a constant mental strain that the researchers think educators should combat by being more involved. Those results should challenge how college educators, employers, and policy makers help these "Americans in waiting" by first informing them of the obstacles immigrant students face.
"There are efforts that can exist to better support these students," said Mr. Teranishi. "If these institutions are going to admit these students, then they should find ways to support them and help them succeed."
Source: Originally published on The Chronicle of Higher Educations as Undergraduates in the U.S. Illegally Face a Wide Array of Challenges, by Maddy Berner, January 26, 2015.