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February 2013

Findings from Ford Foundation-Backed Study on Undocumented Immigrant Students Unveiled in Washington, D.C.

About 150 Jesuit university and college presidents, students, faculty, administrators and representatives from Congress members’ and Senators’ offices attended an event Tuesday titled "Immigration: Undocumented Students in Higher Education."

Research conducted by Fairfield University, Loyola University Chicago, and Santa Clara University, adds to debate on policies for undocumented students

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 26, 2013 – Like any student, A.J. Bastida was thrilled the day he learned that he would be one of four high-achieving students to receive a scholarship to attend Santa Clara University in California’s Silicon Valley.  But unlike others, this scholarship was virtually his only chance to attend college – because from the age of 5, A.J. had lived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant, making other forms of financing or aid unavailable to him.

Now pursuing a law degree at SCU and a grateful recipient of the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Bastida spoke Tuesday about the many challenges and occasional triumphs of pursuing higher education as an undocumented student.

“I am a true testament to what Jesuit education really means,” said Bastida.

In an effort to understand and help students like A.J., about 150 Jesuit university and college presidents, students, faculty, administrators and representatives from Congress member’s and Senator’s offices attended an event Tuesday titled “Immigration: Undocumented Students in Higher Education.”

At the event, held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, researchers from three universities unveiled a new Immigrant Student National Position Paper, which included findings about the obstacles faced by undocumented students, as well as recommendations for new practices, procedures, and a model of leadership in higher education regarding access to education, particularly for the undocumented.

“At the heart of the Immigrant Student National Position Paper is a call for improved institutional practices at Jesuit institutions in the United States to help these young people flourish on campus and off,” said project leader Richard Ryscavage, S.J., a Jesuit priest, sociology professor and director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Fairfield University. “Ultimately, this project presents a way of proceeding on this area of immigration that informs and helps shape the national educational discourse.  Our findings revealed that a pathway to citizenship will not solve all of the challenges these student face.  Additional policies that address the needs of the students as well as their families are critical.” 

Among the findings:


*Inability to reach potential: In the U.S. today, many bright, talented, and motivated young men and women who are undocumented find themselves prevented from developing their full potential and limited in their ability to contribute to the civic life of their surroundings.
*Fear of deportation: Underlying the college admissions process for undocumented students is the ongoing fear of being deported. From application to graduation, they worry whether their status will change their life or a family member's forever.
*Broken dreams: A group of people are eager to become teachers, accountants, engineers, nurses, and physicians. However, these dreamers are barred from pursuing those professions since they are not American citizens, and therefore they cannot get the proper certifications nor do internships to meet degree requirements.
*Limited opportunities on campus: Other barriers they face include inability to work on and off campus; study abroad; go on service trips: take on resident assistant, student government or other leadership roles; participate in research; and attend academic conferences.
*No financial aid: The undocumented cannot apply for or receive any federal aid, including federal work-study stipends, and state aid is limited or non-existent for them.
*Isolation: They feel disconnected from fellow students and professors.
*Culture shock: Some experience college campus culture shock because the demographics are so different from where they came from.
*Lack of public support: Over 75 percent of Jesuit university staffers believe that enrolling and supporting undocumented students fits with the mission of Jesuit higher education and more than 60 percent support the idea that it should be an institutional priority. However, most staff recognized that their institutions do not publicly identify their support for the undocumented.   


*Support reform of U.S. immigration law that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented students. A majority of Jesuit presidents have already signed a document supporting this path.
*Modify admissions materials so that applicants don’t have to put their social security numbers or citizenship status to apply.
*Identify that aid is available to undocumented students.
*Create a database of alumni who were undocumented who can assist undocumented students with their post grad careers.
*Train university staff specifically on the needs of the undocumented.


Of the 65,000 undocumented American students who graduate high school annually, roughly 5 to 10 percent enter post-secondary education. A handful at the top of their class are awarded merit-based scholarships or find a way to finance attendance at a Jesuit institution, which have a longstanding history of serving immigrants.

The presidents of 24 institutions from the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) recently signed a moral statement, pledging their support to the education and care of undocumented students. Many were at the event to support these individuals who were brought to the U.S. as young children by parents who either overstayed a legal visa or entered the country without the authorization of the federal government.

Researchers hope to model best practices for other Catholic or private universities for this vulnerable population. Federal law does not prohibit the admission of undocumented students to public universities or colleges; states may admit or bar undocumented students from enrolling as a matter of policy or through legislation. 

“If the whole Jesuit system of higher education were to become fully engaged in the challenges and issues of undocumented students, perhaps private, public and Catholic colleges and universities could be emboldened to do so as well,” said Ryscavage.

The study was conducted via in-depth interviews with undocumented students, community advocates and university staff members, and examined undocumented students’ complex lives across the 28 American Jesuit colleges and universities.

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