Immigration Policy Affects College Students, Too

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

March 19, 2018

by Janette Martinez 

Earlier this week, we highlighted how current immigration crackdowns threaten to undo decades of progress in the Latinx* community, and how those crackdowns are hurting K-12 students. Today, we look at how immigration policy also affects higher education.

More Latinx students are enrolling in college than ever before. The gap in college enrollment rates between White and Hipsanic students has narrowed from 18 percentage points to 8 percentage points since the early 2000s. The number of bachelor’s degrees earned by Hispanic students more than doubled over the last decade. Still, less than half of Latinx students who enroll in college complete a degree within six years. There’s a lot of work to do to increase college graduation rates for Latinx students, and implementing policies to mitigate the effects of immigration enforcement is one way to make sure graduation rates go up, not down.

While many undocumented students in higher education have DACA protections at the moment, over 22,000 DACA recipients already have lost protections. About 72 percent of DACA recipients that are currently pursuing an education are enrolled in postsecondary education.  Although current applicants can reapply for protections, there are still large numbers of future postsecondary students who are now locked out of the program. Without Congressional action to pass the Dream Act, colleges will have to deal with new issues as undocumented youth are forced “back into the shadows.”

What can be done? 

  1. Make college more affordable by allowing undocumented students to access state grants or pay in-state tuition rates.
    Two common ways students pay for college are unavailable for undocumented students. Students without DACA status cannot legally work, and all undocumented students are ineligible for Federal Student Aid, including Pell Grants and student loans.

  1. Provide training for staff and faculty to better understand and meet the needs of undocumented students.
    • At the postsecondary level, faculty and staff at colleges are trying to navigate the best ways to support undocumented students and finding themselves “in a state of ‘empathetic frustration.”
    • Some colleges, such as Wake Forest University, are providing professional development to faculty to help them identify and understand undocumented students’ issues and fears. Faculty and staff who interact with students frequently can better help students if they understand their experience.
    • Schools like UC Berkeley provide psychologists who work just with undocumented students because their needs are unique. Colleges, especially those with large immigrant or immigrant children populations, should consider training counselors on the issues that uniquely impact immigrant communities.


Latinx students have made great progress in recent decades, but the Trump administration’s immigration policies threaten to undo that progress. The Trump administration is requesting millions more in funding to further immigration enforcement, but over 350 organizations are calling on Congress to defund the administration’s hateful agenda.  The millions requested could be better spent helping students rather than hurting them.

We should not, cannot leave the fastest growing racial group behind in our new economy. Schools and colleges can and should mitigate the impacts of today’s enforcement policies, and a variety of education organizations can and should advocate against the aggressive immigration enforcement policies. It’s the right thing to do for students and for the country.


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*Latinx is a gender neutral form of Latino/Latina. In the rest of the post, Latinx and Hispanic are used interchangeably due to data reporting.