Resources

Support, Advocacy and Resources for Undocumented Students

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Undocumented students encounter many obstacles when seeking a quality education in the United States. Below, we've compiled comprehensive resources to help students overcome these barriers.

As an undocumented student navigating higher education, you face many unique challenges, including constantly changing immigration policies, complex legal circumstances, financial hardships, language barriers, and the challenges that all students face when adjusting to campus life and college classes.

You don't need to navigate these challenges alone. Many advocacy groups and support organizations work to improve experiences and opportunities for immigrant and undocumented Americans — especially undocumented students.

Whether you're struggling to navigate America's complex immigration laws, need help on your college campus, or are seeking advice on selecting an online college, many reputable organizations can provide assistance. Below, we explore some of these groups, providing you with links and contact information.

Legal Support for Undocumented Students

Navigating the constantly changing and inconsistent immigration laws at the national and state levels is one of the greatest difficulties for undocumented students. You may encounter issues related to your legal status, unlawful detention, deportation proceedings, family separations, or institutional discrimination, among other threats to your residency or completing your education.

Most of these groups are national or international, with some regional inclusions. Many local and regional groups also work to help immigrants and undocumented Americans in other communities across the United States. Many of the national organizations listed below also have local chapters.

If you're in need of legal help, in addition to exploring these groups, make sure to ask for referrals from trusted members of your family and community, or search online for local assistance.

Al Otro Lado

This organization works in the U.S. and Mexico to provide legal support in the Tijuana border area for migrants, deportees, and parents separated from their children by the government.

American Immigrant Representation Project

AIRP is part of the Immigration Justice Campaign. It provides legal representation for immigrants, particularly those detained by law enforcement officials.

Immigration Justice Corps

IJC provides direct legal representation in immigration court for parents and children at the border and in the New York metro area.

ImmigrationLawHelp.org

ImmigrationLawHelp.org is a repository for legal resources available to low-income immigrants in the United States. Individuals can search by state, county, and detention facility. The website also provides linguistic and demographic details about the types of legal services available throughout all 50 states.

Immigration Legal Resource Center

ILRC offers training, technical assistance, and educational materials to help immigration law professionals expand their expertise. The center also works in advocacy and civic engagement on behalf of immigrant rights.

Immigrant Legal Services

ILS provides pro bono and low-cost attorney services for immigrants navigating the complex U.S. immigration process.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association

This association represents people seeking permanent residence for family members, businesses seeking global talent, and foreign students, entertainers, athletes, and asylum-seekers in need of legal support.

Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services

RAICES Texas raises money for the legal defense of undocumented and immigrant families. The organization has taken a particularly important role in confronting family separation and related civil rights violations at the U.S.-Mexico border.

World Relief Immigration Legal Services

World Relief empowers local churches so that they can provide immigration legal services, training opportunities for church-based clinics, and start-up support.

Advocacy for Undocumented Students

In addition to facing legal challenges, immigrant Americans and undocumented students face many obstacles related to shifting policies, enforcement tactics, and practical impediments to citizenship, residency, or educational access.

Advocacy groups and networks help push for positive policy changes to support individuals and families affected by aggressive enforcement tactics. Below are a few of these organizations.

The American Civil Liberties Union

The ACLU provides guidance in matters concerning Constitutional violations, institutional discrimination, and other practices or policies resulting in unequal treatment against any group, including immigrant or undocumented Americans.

The American Immigration Council

This council promotes education, advocates for judicial protections, and advances cultural exchange related to immigration issues and needs.

Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project

ASAP provides support and services to keep families together, particularly those separated by enforcement personnel despite their status as asylum-seekers.

Immi

This organization helps immigrants understand and consider their options for staying in the United States. Immi provides access to education, resources, and legal support.

Freedom for Immigrants

As a leading voice exposing and opposing immigrant detention, this nonprofit manages the nation's largest immigration detention hotline, drafts legislation, and organizes visitation opportunities for individuals in detention centers,

Immigration Advocates Network

IAN offers free and accessible online resources to connect leading immigrants' rights organizations with one another. This network improves communication and collaboration between groups and advances service capacity and access to justice for immigrants.

International Refugee Assistance Project

IRAP organizes law students and lawyers to advance legal and human rights for refugees. It specializes in legal and judicial challenges to existing immigration laws.

Kino Border Initiative

KBI collects supplies and distributes humanitarian aid for refugees and migrants on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

National Immigrant Justice Center

NIJC provides advocacy and representation for immigrants facing removal, people struggling to gain access at the borders, and families separated by aggressive law enforcement tactics.

Pueblo Sin Fronteras

This organization provides shelter and humanitarian support for migrant families and individuals during their often-perilous travels to the U.S. border.

Women's Refugee Commission

WRC provides support and advocacy for women, children, and youth seeking asylum in the U.S. to flee violence, persecution, and abuse.

Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights

This organization works to advance and protect immigrant children's rights, especially for those facing immigration proceedings.

Government Agencies for Undocumented Students

Many government agencies and outlets carry out immigration laws, provide administrative support in navigating bureaucracies, or simply provide information about your status or the status of a family member or loved one.

Students should know the various enforcement prongs of the United States government as they pertain to immigration. Recognizing these agencies and how they work is key to understanding your rights and how to preserve them in the face of discrimination or unlawful enforcement tactics.

The degree to which these agencies support or show hostility toward immigrant needs can vary considerably. For instance, the Office of Civil Rights — which is part of the Department of Education (ED) — supports your needs as an undocumented student, while the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has come under fire for using increasingly excessive anti-immigration enforcement tactics.

During your time in the U.S., you may need to interact with or navigate these agencies in pursuit of proper documentation, to advocate for a loved one inside the enforcement system, or to locate public support services.

At present, the immigration arm of the Department of Homeland Security has three prongs:

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services

This agency processes applications for green cards, visas, citizenship, renewals, and other immigration status documentation.

The Bureau of Customs and Border Control

CBP handles arrival screening for international travelers, documented and undocumented immigrants, and asylum-seekers.

The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

This agency detains, deports, raids, and otherwise engages in aggressive activities against vulnerable immigrant communities.

But as an undocumented student, you may also interact with:

Student Privacy Policy Office

Housed within the ED, the SPPO protects student privacy in educational settings. The SPPO oversees the implementation of and compliance with the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment.

The Office of Civil Rights

This division of the ED provides support, guidance, and advocacy for students seeking protection from exclusion or raising charges of discrimination against an educational institution.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program

As a part of the National Security Investigations Division, this program oversees the standards and regulations surrounding the arrival of non-immigrant students in the U.S. It applies to individuals seeking or holding student visas.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

USCIS administers the nation's lawful immigration system, including handling most procedural matters related to the pursuit of citizenship and naturalization.

Local elected officials can also be a potentially valuable source of advocacy and public support. Whether you need support, intervention, or simply wish to voice your support for fair and equitable immigration law reforms, reach out to your local and state officials for help.


Educational Support for Undocumented Students

Undocumented students face the dual challenges of navigating a new country and a new campus or online college. Adjusting to your courses, potentially learning a new language, and adapting to a new culture can magnify the already significant difficulties that come with earning a degree. However, the support networks, organizations, and resources below were formed specifically with immigrant and undocumented students in mind, and they can help make things easier.

American Council on Education

ACE advocates for comprehensive immigration reform centering around undocumented students, with a particular focus on advancing fair and equitable DREAM Act legislation. They also work to provide pathways for talented international students — especially STEM students — who wish to remain in the U.S. after completing their studies.

Generation Progress

This organization advances progressive views on immigration law and policy reform among young adults through collaboration, political engagement, and social action. They usually work with young individuals on campuses and those engaged in activism, journalism, or policy research.

Immigrants Rising

Immigrants Rising is a community of educators and educational professionals that provides scholarship opportunities, legal advocacy, and educational workshops for undocumented students working toward degrees or careers in the United States.

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

This legal advocacy group does groundbreaking work in advancing educational equality for undocumented students, especially its successful prosecution of the landmark Plyler vs. Doe Supreme Court case. This case set the precedent that makes public school legally accessible to all children, regardless of citizenship or status.

My Undocumented Life

This resource provides information about the experience of undocumented students, including scholarship opportunities, tips for navigating the educational system, news on immigration policy, and ongoing DACA updates.

United We Dream

As the largest immigrant-youth-led community in the United States, United We Dream provides resources for undocumented immigrants and their advocates and supporters. United We Dream actively protects immigrants, defends against deportation, and facilitates education access for immigrants through training programs, videos, up-to-date research, and issue-specific campaigns.

Financial Support for Undocumented Students

For many undocumented students, financing college is a major challenge that can inhibit access to greater opportunities. As an undocumented immigrant, you can apply to and attend most colleges or universities. However, you cannot receive federal financial aid, and many states even prevent undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition rates or state-based financial aid.

Regardless of your eligibility to receive state financial aid or discounted tuition rates, students should still explore every avenue of available financial support. For example, many organizations offer scholarships and grants specifically for immigrant and undocumented learners.

Check out these scholarship directories, indexes, and guidelines to see which undocumented student scholarships are available for you.

10,000 Degrees

10,000 Degrees offers financial aid support, course advising, mentoring, and college planning resources for low-income individuals entering college. 10,000 Degrees is also the scholarship ambassador for civic, community, and philanthropic organizations, overseeing 10 scholarship programs.

Fiscal Tiger

Fiscal Tiger lists nationally recognized scholarships for undocumented students. These listings include information about eligibility requirements, application materials, deadlines, and award amounts, plus additional scholarship information specific to DACA recipients.

Golden Door Scholars

Golden Door Scholars provides funding to DACA students, learners with temporary protected status, and other eligible undocumented immigrants pursuing undergraduate degrees. Recipients apply annually, with opportunities to attend one of Golden Door's partner schools or an institution of their choosing.

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

This legal advocacy group does groundbreaking work in advancing educational equality for undocumented students, especially its successful prosecution of the landmark Plyler vs. Doe Supreme Court case. This case set the precedent that makes public school legally accessible to all children, regardless of citizenship or status.

Immigrants Rising Scholarship Fund

While not accepting applications for 2020-2021, the Immigrants Rising Scholarship fund will spend the coming year expanding its funding resources. The Scholarship Fund continues to provide information about scholarship opportunities from other outlets, information about grants, and assistance for undocumented students.

International Financial Aid and College Scholarship Search

Provided through Indiana University of Pennsylvania, this list of funding resources for international students includes information about scholarships, fellowships, and grants, plus details about application requirements, amounts, and deadlines.

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

This scholarship resource guide enables high school, college, and graduate students to access current information about funding opportunities that are available regardless of immigrant status. MALDEF also offers a law school scholarship program, awarding $2,000 to as many as 15 qualifying law students annually.

Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans

This graduate school fellowship for immigrants and the children of immigrants awards up to $90,000 in financial support over two years to 30 qualifying applicants. Depending on their circumstances, DACA recipients, refugees, and asylum-seekers may be eligible for awards.

TheDream.Us

TheDream.US offers two scholarships annually. The National Scholarship provides support for high school or community college graduates, while the Opportunity Scholarship funds students living in states where they can not receive in-state tuition. Applicants must be DACA recipients, have temporary protected status, or meet TheDream's eligibility requirements. To receive the National Scholarship, individuals must qualify for in-state tuition at one of TheDream's partner institutions.

The advocacy groups, government agencies, and educational resources listed can help you know your rights, gain access to meaningful legal support, and find the assistance you need to succeed in your education and on your path to legal status in the U.S.

Back to the Undocumented Student's Guide to College

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Go To College If You Are an Undocumented Immigrant?

There is no federal prohibition restricting undocumented immigrants from attending colleges and universities in the United States. Instead, individual states set their own policies and regulations for undocumented students. Some states provide inclusive options for financial aid and tuition, while others — like Alabama and South Carolina — prohibit undocumented immigrants from attending public institutions.

In 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy created more opportunities for undocumented learners. Many states and institutions work closely with DACA recipients to facilitate postsecondary admission and enrollment.

Can You Get Financial Aid If You are Undocumented?

Undocumented students can not receive federal financial aid, but they may apply for state or institutional support. Most undocumented immigrants do not have a social security number, which is required for submitting a Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some DACA recipients may have a social security number, allowing them to complete a FAFSA, but they can only access non-federal funding.

Will Colleges Accept Undocumented Students?

Colleges around the United States accept thousands of undocumented students each year. Undocumented immigrants should work closely with high school counselors, admissions specialists, and financial aid offices to complete their college applications.

When looking into college, also research state policies, institutional support, and campus resources to ensure that you choose an institution that meets your unique needs. Undocumented applicants should avoid institutions with hostile or restrictive policies.

How Can I Help Undocumented Students on Campus?

Opportunities to help undocumented students on college and university campuses vary by institution and role. Administrators can make policy statements that openly express support for undocumented students, or they can build infrastructure to offer legal, educational, and informational resources. Instructors can similarly foster an inclusive environment that extends beyond the classroom, and students can start student advocacy initiatives.