The American Dream- Undocumented Students & Higher Education

The National Center for Education Statistics predicted that in the fall of 2016 there would be about 20.5 million students expected to attend American colleges and universities. During the 2016-2017 academic school year, it is estimated that 1.9 million students will graduate with their bachelor’s degree. The number of students attending colleges or universities continues to grow each year, but so does the number of undocumented students who graduate from high school in the United States. Many of these students dream of attaining a bachelor’s degree. Earning a bachelor’s degree has been linked to higher paying jobs, more career opportunities, and job security/satisfaction, to name a few. However, in the United States, we often deny undocumented students from earning a degree. Even when students are accepted into a university or college, they face a number of barriers and challenges that keep them from enrolling or graduating. The number of undocumented immigrants in the US is comprised of all different types of nationalities and ethnic groups, but for the purpose of this blog, I am going to discuss undocumented students from Latinx backgrounds.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Financial- Many students struggle to find ways to pay for college, for undocumented students, there are specific financial challenges that arise when accessing higher education. With over 40% of undocumented children in the US living below the federal poverty line, the cost of college proves to be a major barrier. Undocumented students are unable to qualify for federal aid and most state-based financial aid such as, work study and grants. For many of these students, they are also enrolled as out-of-state students which means their tuition is doubled or tripled. Even if they are willing to take out private loans, there are many banks that won’t allow them to.

Policies- State/local and national policies have created a hostile environment for undocumented students. In 2011, the state of Indiana passed H.B. 1402. This bill required that students be, “lawfully present in order to receive in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities.” lumina foundation. Undocumented students were now going to be paying out-of-state tuition. Fast-forward to 2013, S. 207 passed which allowed students that had already been enrolled in colleges and universities to be grand-fathered in to in-state tuition, it still mean that undocumented students who enrolled after H.B. 1402 passed would still be paying out-of-state tuition. Similarly in Arizona in 2006, Proposition 300 stated, “The law prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving any state-funded money for financial assistance,” (Agarwal).  Prop 300 has denied in-state tuition to approximately 5,000 students in Arizona. Arizona and Indiana are not the only two states to pass laws that create barriers to higher education. There have been legislators in Missouri, Iowa, and Georgia, just to name a few, that have passed or tried to pass bills similar to H.B. 1402 and Prop 300.


Source- Lumina Foundation

What is LatCrit?

LatCrit emerged out of Critical Race Theory, more specifically, it emerged as a part of the Hispanic National Bar Association Law Professor’s meeting in 1995. The LatCrit movement, “… has been grounded in the use of narrative storytelling as a tool to examine how other aspects of race, ethnicity, language, and national origin converge to “otherize” and politically disenfranchise Latino/as in the U.S.,” Olivia, Perez, Parker (2013). Latinx have never fit neatly into the U.S. defined racial categories within society. As Haney Lopez (1996) has pointed out, “… under the legal construction of race and citizenship law, “White” has historically stood not only for members of the White race but for a set of concepts and privileges associated with it, while “Black” has been defined by the legal denial of those privileges.” Latinx are made up of a large and broad spectrum which great effects their experiences here in the US. We are all different, we don’t all have the same color of skin, we eat different foods and we listen to different music. However, we are constantly put into the same category. LatCrit has assisted in diving into these topics and challenges and at least trying to make sense of it. 

Interest Convergence

In 1980, the concept of interest convergence was brought to CRT by Derrick Bell. Interest Convergence is the theory that white people will support racial justice only when they believe and understand that it will benefit them as well, that there is something in it for them. Olivia, Parker, & Perez (2013), “The central theme of interest convergence lends itself to understanding the ways in which educational policy contradictions and Latinos can be viewed in the interest both of Whites and of Latinos, but only if Whites will benefit more, and if Latinos are viewed as a threat then they will be targeted, particularly if they are undocumented students.” Immigration has been and continues to be a hot topic. Specifically within our current political climate, our very own president has continued bash Latinx. There is constant talk about building a wall between the US and Mexico and that immigrants are rapists and criminals. These are not new ideas, many politicians have shared similar thoughts. Unfortunately, these very same thoughts are what have gotten us to where we are. The many policies negatively affecting undocumented students accessing higher education, some students being deported back to a country that they have little to no memory of, and negative stereotypes.

Narrative and Counterstory

Storytelling is an important part of many Latinx communities. As Derrick Bell, Bruno Bettelheim, and others show, stories can shatter complacency and challenge the status quo. What has proven to be most powerful is when undocumented students share their stories. Their stories invite people to listen and understand the their realities and everyday lived experiences. Delgado (1989), says it perfectly, “Stories humanize us. They emphasize our differences in ways that can ultimately bring us closer together. They allow us to see how the world looks from behind someone else’s spectacles. They challenge us to wipe off our own lenses and ask, “Could I have been overlooking something all along?” These stories are powerful and will continue to assist in the fight for undocumented students.


It is challenging to count the number of undocumented students attending and graduating from institutions of higher education. According to the Pew Research Center, there are approximately 11.2 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. There is an estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high schools across the country each year. Out of the 65,000 undocumented students who graduate high school each year, only about 7,000-10,000 enroll in colleges/universities within the US. Sure, numbers are important but people are more important. The stories they tell and the struggles they have faced are all a part of the “American Dream.” If we say that education is important how are we actually living out this truth. Shouldn’t we make higher education accessible to all?



Agarwal, A. (n.d.). Arizona’s Undocumented Immigrant Students Get $1.8 Million in Financial Aid. Retrieved from

Delgado, R. (1989). Storytelling for Oppositionists and Others: A Plea for Narrative.

Haney Lopez, I.F. (1996). White by law. New York: NYU Press.

Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn. Trends in Unauthorized Immigration: Undocumented Inflow Now Trails Legal Inflow. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center, October 2008.

Olivia, N., Perez, J. C., & L. (2013). Educational Policy Contradictions: A LatCrit Perspective on Undocumented Latino Students. In Handbook of Critical Race Theory in Education (pp. 140-152). Taylor & Francis.

Perez, Z. J. (2014, December). Removing Barriers to Higher Education for Undocumented Students. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics.


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