Undocumented immigrants in the U.S. face obstacle after obstacle, from navigating a difficult and expensive citizenship process and facing hardships in receiving adequate healthcare to constantly dealing with discrimination from the greater populace. Another issue that is specific to young, undocumented immigrants is their ability to attend college in the U.S.
Currently, the federal government does not provide federal aid to undocumented immigrants. Private institutions, however, can choose to provide financial aid to undocumented immigrants by looking at them the same as they do domestic citizens. Colleges such as Brown University and Cornell University have amended their policies to reflect this, but they have joined a list that is too short. At Ithaca College, undocumented students are grouped together with international students and therefore are ineligible to receive federal financial aid.
According to the Pew Research Center, 66 percent of undocumented immigrants in 2014 had lived in the U.S. for at least a decade. Financial aid policies concerning undocumented students should be reformed to consider undocumented immigrants who have resided in the U.S. for a certain number of years. The California DREAM Act, for example, allows undocumented immigrants who were brought in to the U.S. under the age of 16, have attended school on a regular basis and have met in-state tuition and GPA requirements to apply for federal financial aid. Cornell’s new policy allows undocumented students who hold Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival status, which grants non-immigrant legal status to undocumented youths, to be considered domestic students for financial aid. Ithaca College should look to policies such as these to see how it could feasibly be more inclusive to undocumented immigrants who have essentially lived their lives like a documented U.S. student.
Arguments in support of allowing these people opportunities for federal aid would also apply to allowing them clearer paths to citizenship. It follows, then, that these paths to citizenship should be made more open for those who have established years of presence in this country. Many of these undocumented students come from struggling, low-income families who often do not receive the same social services that legal citizens do, and see higher education as the opportunity to improve their and their family’s financial situation. The alternative — not going to college — keeps these people in lower socioeconomic circles and allows for no social mobility.
Undocumented students who want to pursue an education — and have lived here like any other U.S. student has — should not be punished because they were not privileged enough to grow up as legalized citizens. It’s time for the U.S. to broaden its perspective on the lives of others who wish to work to become contributing citizens, and not strangle their opportunities.