Undocumented Students and the 2016 Election

What will happen and what can we do now in the higher education field?

photo credit: http://www.ibtimes.com/

There is a lot of uncertainty going into the 2016 election this year. Immigration policy continues to be a hot topic and one that is very controversial among both parties. In regards to immigration and undocumented people, one thing remains unclear, what will happen with President Obama’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)?

Here is what we know:

  • DACA is not official legislation and it is not binding on the next administration.
  • DACA can either be continued, expanded, modified or discontinued all together

The constantly changing political nature is not something new for undocumented students to deal with. Because federal legislation has not been passed, states have had to take things into their own hands which has led to positive and negative outcomes for undocumented students. In California specifically, in 2013, the University of California took action with their online resource center specifically for undocumented students with a 5 million dollar initiative from the UC President, Janet Napolitano. The 5 million dollars is going to trained advisers, student service centers and financial assistance at the undergraduate level. It’s college campuses like the U.C.’s that promote safe spaces for students to feel comfortable about their status and to talk with people who can help them.

Regardless of outcomes for the 2016 election, what can we do?

As a student affairs professional myself (and others in the field), we need to understand who our undocumented student population is. We need to know the facts. “Approximately 65,000 undocumented students in the United States graduate from high school each year and only 7,000–13,000 attend college; this means they enroll at a rate of 5–10 percent compared to the 66 percent on average at the national level” (Gildersleve, 2010, p.5). There are an estimated 2.1 million undocumented children and young adults in the United States; as immigration to the United States continues, these numbers are estimated to increase (Parker, 2013). About 56 percent of all undocumented immigrants are from Mexico, 22 percent from other nations in Latin America, 13 percent from Asia, 6 percent from Europe and Canada, and 3 percent from Africa and other regions of the world (Parker, 2013). Although undocumented students come from all over the world, the majority of the students are Latino and the research that is out there mainly focuses on Latino students. I know that I will stay in California throughout my higher education career so I know I need to be aware that my undocumented students will mainly be Latino. I need to take the time to research and understand this population.

In Suarez-Orozco’s 2015 study, they found a common theme that undocumented students want to be understood by administrators, faculty and staff. Meaning they want us to understand their presence, their issues, challenges and needs as they navigate the higher education system (Suarez-Orozco et al., 2013). It is also important to have staff that are trained and well versed with the laws regarding undocumented students. These students need allies on our college campuses.

Again, in a political climate where so much is uncertain, undocumented students need the safe spaces provided on college campuses now more than ever. Staff need to be trained on immigration policies and law. And most of all, they need to be open and understanding, ready to listen, and act on the collective needs and issues of this student population.


Parker, Kiam. (2013). Surviving broken dreams : a qualitative study on the resilience of undocumented students.Theses, Dissertations,and Projects.622. 6–103.

Suarez-Orozco, C., Katsiaficas, D., Birchall, O., Hernandez, E., Garcia, Y., Michikyan, M., Cerda, J. & Teranishi, R. (2015). Undocumented undergraduates on college campuses: understanding their challenges and assets and what it takes to make an undocufriendly campus. Harvard Educational Review. 85 (3). 1–38.