"Immigration: Undocumented Students in Higher Education" study findings unveiled in Washington, D.C.

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

Image: AJCU Presidents

Guadalupe, an undocumented student at Fairfield University who was born in Mexico and graduated from the Bridgeport, Conn. public school system, hopes to work in Information Systems one day. The outgoing Dolan School of Business freshman receives tuition assistance, enjoys classes taught by Vishnu Vinekar and Mary Murphy, and likes that there's "a fair number" of undocumented students at Fairfield. But without citizenship, the bright 18-year-old has a number of obstacles that might hold her back, including studying abroad and uncertain career prospects since she doesn't have a social security number. President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program offers her temporary relief so she can get a driver's license and obtain authorization to work legally.

Image: Immigration conferenceTo help students like Guadalupe, Jesuit university and college presidents, senators, and members of Congress joined more than 50 students and dozens of faculty and administrators this morning at an event, "Immigration: Undocumented Students in Higher Education," held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. There, researchers unveiled the findings of a Ford Foundation-funded study, Immigrant Student National Position Paper, an endeavor led by Fairfield's Center for Faith and Public Life in Connecticut, in collaboration with Loyola University Chicago's Center for Urban Research and Learning and Santa Clara University in California. The study proposes a new model of leadership in higher education regarding access to education, particularly for the undocumented.

Of the 65,000 undocumented American students who graduate high school annually, roughly 5-10% of these students 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, with their storied history of serving immigrants.

The presidents of 25 Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) recently signed a moral statement, pledging their support, to the education and care of undocumented students, and 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 said their obstacles, issues, and desires serve as a to do list of what any new practices and procedures must address. They include:

  • Inability to reach potential: In the U.S. today, many undocumented students - bright, talented, and motivated young men and women - find themselves prevented from developing their full potential, 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: 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% of Jesuit university staffers believe that enrolling and supporting undocumented students fits with the mission of Jesuit higher education and more than 60% 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.

Image: Immigration conference

Recognizing the urgency of this immigration related problem, the study - featuring in-depth interviews with undocumented students, community advocates and university staff members - examined undocumented students' complex lives across the 28 American Jesuit colleges and universities, where there is no consistent policy regarding undocumented students.

"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 Rev. Richard Ryscavage, S.J., a Jesuit priest who is the director of the Center for Faith and Public Life and professor of sociology. "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."

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," Fr. Ryscavage emphasized.

Project recommendations include:

  • 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.
    Researchers hope to make a substantive contribution to the common good of the nation from a principled Catholic perspective. Project Manager Melissa Quan, associate director of the Center for Faith and Public Life and director of Service Learning, noted, "We see these individuals' promise and want to help them reach their full human potential, it is our responsibility."

For more information, visit http://www.fairfield.edu/cfpl/cfpl_immigrant.html.


Images: 1) The presidents of 25 Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) recently signed a moral statement, pledging their support, to the education and care of undocumented students, and many were at the event. 2) Researchers from Fairfield University, Loyola University Chicago, and Santa Clara University, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., February 26. 2013. (Seated left-right) Suzanna Klaf, Terry Ann Jones (Fairfield University), Cynthia Mertens, (Santa Clara University), Rev. Richard Ryscavage, S.J. (Fairfield University), (Standing left-right) Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J. (President of Fairfield University), Laura Nichols (Santa Clara University), Maria Guzman (Loyola Chicago University), Ana Maria Siscar  (Fairfield University), and Kurt Schlichting (Fairfield University). Photos by Mike Theiler.


Fairfield University is a Jesuit University, rooted in one of the world's oldest intellectual and spiritual traditions. More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students from 36 states, 47 foreign countries, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are enrolled in the University's five schools. In the spirit of rigorous and sympathetic inquiry into all dimensions of human experience, Fairfield welcomes students from diverse backgrounds to share ideas and engage in open conversations. The University is located in the heart of a region where the future takes shape, on a stunning campus on the Connecticut coast just an hour from New York City.

Founded in 1870, Loyola University Chicago is one of the nation's largest Jesuit, Catholic universities, with nearly 16,000 students. Nearly 10,000 undergraduates hailing from all 50 states and 82 countries call Loyola home. The University has four campuses: three in the greater Chicago area and one in Rome, Italy, as well as course locations in Beijing, China; Saigon-Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Vernon Hills, Illinois (Cuneo Mansion and Gardens); and a Retreat and Ecology Campus in Woodstock, Illinois. The University features 10 schools and colleges, including the Quinlan School of Business, Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, Stritch School of Medicine, College of Arts and Sciences, School of Communication, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, School of Education, School of Law, School of Social Work, and Graduate School. Consistently ranked a top national university by U.S.News & World Report, Loyola is also among a select group of universities recognized for community service and engagement by prestigious national organizations like the Carnegie Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service. To learn more about Loyola, visit LUC.edu, "like" us at Facebook.com/LoyolaChicago, or follow us on Twitter via @LoyolaChicago.

Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California's Silicon Valley, offers its more than 8,800 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, theology, and engineering, plus masters and law degrees and engineering Ph.D.s. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. masters universities, California's oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see www.scu.edu.

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Posted on February 26, 2013

Vol. 45, No. 204

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