In the past decade, undocumented students have experienced great uncertainty regarding their status in the United States. In 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which provides temporary protection and work authorization, was passed. Since then, however, DACA has been continuously impacted by rulings made by federal judges, lawsuits and Supreme Court decisions, meaning that it is far from a stable long-term solution. Undocumented students have faced policies such as Proposition 187 that have barred them for an equitable education altogether. In fact, out of the almost 430,000 undocumented students pursuing higher education in the United States, only 180,000 are individuals under DACA.
This uncertainty surrounding the status of undocumented students provides even more reason to save the existing undocumented student programs, or USPs. In 2019, the UC system announced that central funding for the programs would be eliminated, meaning that local funding, charitable donations and state funding will be the sole sources of funding. UC Office of the President temporary funds will likely run out at the end of the 2023 academic year, and USPs may lose all funding once these temporary funds expire. The UC Student Association has requested $5 million in funding from the state government for USP programs in order to fund crucial support for undocumented students. Such funding is necessary to build more equitable campuses across the university.
In 2020, 427 self-identified undocumented students attended UC Berkeley, and about 92,000 undocumented students are enrolled in higher education in all of the United States. Undocumented students gain a significant benefit from resources such as paid research and internship opportunities, scholarships, professional development, technological and basic needs support, just as any other student. However, increased access to these opportunities is especially crucial to alleviate the barriers undocumented students face.
Jerusalen, a current junior transfer majoring in Chicano and Latino studies shares her thoughts and experiences as an undocumented student at UC Berkeley:
It is assumed that every undocumented student is DACAmented or that DACA is a permanent solution when this is not the case. When I was in the transfer process, I looked into whether campuses had a Dreamer center and what other services campuses provided for undocumented students. I wanted a campus that had a safe space in which I could connect with other students like me and that had additional support I could rely on.
Because I am unDACAmented, I don’t have a reliable income. The only way I have been able to attend UC Berkeley is through financial aid, grants, scholarships and paid opportunities. As someone that comes from a low-income immigrant family, I knew that I was going to have to pay for college on my own. In that regard, when an unexpected expense comes up, it is very challenging to figure out how I will pay it and where I can get funding from. Emergency grants and scholarships are greatly limited. This is another reason why Dreamer centers are essential, and why they should be able to provide funding and other forms of student support all year without running the risk of exhausting available funds.
As a current intern with the Undocumented Student Program, I have encoutered a number of undocumented students needing USP to be available for use. Students need a place to study, relax, interact with other undocumented students, use the resources avaliable and have it available as a safe space. With the limited USP funding and threat of the funding being taken away, all of these support services would become inaccessible to students.
Although each undocumented student experience is unique, Jerusalen’s story points to the critical role that Dreamer centers play in undocumented student experiences in campuses within the UC system and higher education in general.
The Undocumented Student Program provides a number of services for undocumented UC Berkeley students. The Transcending Beyond Berkeley Fellowship, for example, is a yearlong opportunity provided by the program pairing students with a campus department to complete an in-depth learning project. Students can also attend workshops on independent contracting, career center advising, time management and communication, among others. The stipends that come with participation in these workshops are another major benefit to this program. USP also provides students with academic counseling and unlimited free mental health services through two professional counselors. Last, but certainly not least, USP provides emergency grants, scholarships and financial aid advising.
Although these programs are beneficial for many students, there could be additional programs better suited to the specific needs of the undocumented student community at Berkeley. In terms of scholarships, there are 31 scholarships specifically available to undocumented students: Most range from $1,000-$5,000 as a one-time payment, with the exception of some higher-funding scholarship opportunities. These scholarships provide some support but are not guaranteed and nowhere near enough.
In that regard, it is crucial to act now. In order to get the most work done in a short period of time, there should be action to fund scholarships, grants and housing programs for the undocumented community at Berkeley and all of the UC campuses. The $5 million funding request is crucial for keeping these programs alive. These funds are needed for numerous programs and for a community of almost 500 students. With the risk of a future administration with significantly higher anti-immigrant sentiments, it is extremely important to create as much progress as possible in terms of benefits and reforms for undocumented students and the undocumented community as a whole.