Thursday, June 21

Maia Ferdman: College info for undocumented students needs higher visibility

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced his shifted focus on immigration reform and his plans to create new pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. His announcement reflects a growing movement in our country toward the improvement of a seemingly broken system.

While some argue against allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens, we should strive to continue a spirit of reform and opportunity at our university. UCLA has already emerged as a leader of advocacy and research surrounding undocumented students.

According to a 2007 report by the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, about 40 percent of the approximately 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school in the U.S. reside in California; there is no federal or state law that prohibits them from accessing higher education.

This fact should be more easily and transparently relayed to undocumented students.

The California Dream Act, which gives undocumented students the chance to apply for public financial aid, was a productive start to furthering college accessibility. However, this does not mean these students have the necessary institutional knowledge or understanding of how to apply to the state’s universities.

Jose Quintero, a graduate student in mechanical engineering and co-chairman of UCLA’s student-run organization Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success, said he did not know that he was undocumented until he applied for financial aid as an undergraduate student and couldn’t give a Social Security number.

He said that without his high school counselor, who told him he could fill in the form with all zeros or nines, he would not have known what to do.

Quintero’s experience likely occurs across California and across the country. Politicians who create policies, and high school and college counselors who implement these policies, should take it upon themselves to provide extensive information to students about how to navigate them. Some of this information is already available online, albeit not in prominent areas where students might intuitively look.

The CollegeBoard, for example, features a section on its page for guidance counselors, instructing them on how to assist undocumented students. In 2011, the UC Office of the President released a “Frequently Asked Questions” document that specified how undocumented students should confront the University of California application specifically, but this was not a permanent or easily accessible page on its website.

For real progress, individuals first need to know how to reach and arrive at the new doors that are opening for them, especially as more avenues become available for undocumented students to attend college and apply for financial aid.

Student activists on the East Coast recently started a campaign to add the option of checking “undocumented American” to the demographic statistics and “undocumented status” to the nondiscrimination clause of the Common Application, which has 488 member colleges.

Contention about the term “undocumented American” aside, including the option to self-identify as undocumented would be an inexpensive and easy way to validate that undocumented students can indeed attend college. It could also provide the government with more comprehensive statistics about these students.

However, with so many member colleges, the Common Application may not be able to implement this kind of sweeping addition. Some of its member institutions require students to provide documentation to apply, while others might object on philosophical grounds.

The UC application currently has a mandatory section requesting an applicant’s country of citizenship, although “No Selection” is an option. The UC application only asks for ethnic information for federal surveying purposes, and by law cannot require students to fill it out, said Dianne Klein, a UC spokeswoman.

There is no reason to say whether you are undocumented or not because it is not a federal category that is tallied,” she said.

To remedy this, perhaps policymakers could couple new immigration policies with methods of collecting demographic information, and a university application checkbox could be the first step.

In any case, they should assure that the reforms they implement are widely understood and utilized.

Email Ferdman at [email protected]. Send general comments to [email protected] or tweet us @DBOpinion.

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