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Approximately 146,000 students ages 3-17 who attend school in California reside in the United States without legal authority to do so. In official terms, these students are undocumented. Some prefer the term unauthorized.
The largest portion of this immigration is from Latin America. And if you look at the surge of child immigrants on the California border, this number appears to be growing. Some of these students, brought to America by parents or relatives at a young age, are not aware of their immigration status.
American public opinion about new immigration is divided, but Californians generally feel that people who have settled here should be able to remain. According to a statewide survey in 2021 by the Public Policy Institute of California, 85% of Californians agree that there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the US legally.
According to research compiled by the University of Southern California, about one in about every thirty California students is undocumented. This ratio understates the significance of immigration status in the lives of children, however, because about 1 in every 8 children in California schools has at least one parent with unauthorized immigration status.
The 14th amendment of the US Constitution, adopted in 1868 during the Reconstruction era, established that anyone born in the United States is a US citizen. Today, the 14th amendment is of vital importance in the education system.
Understandably, statistics regarding immigration status can be a bit squishy, but the best estimates suggest that the number of undocumented people in America has been decreasing since the Obama administration. The pandemic has had unclear effects on enrollment in public schools by undocumented students.
Citizenship status is not a condition for enrollment in California K-12 schools. All kids must go to school, regardless of their paperwork.
Citizenship status is not a condition for enrollment in California K-12 schools. In 1982 the US Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in Plyler v. Doe that immigration status cannot serve as a condition for enrollment in American public schools. Access to public education in California is open to all resident students, regardless of immigration status. California law requires kids to be in school, regardless of their paperwork.
In 2021, the federal government strained to provide housing for unaccompanied minors in California as the number of new arrivals surged. In San Diego, for example, teachers volunteered to educate new students housed at the San Diego Convention Center. Many of these students have lost years of school. Newcomer schools, specially designed for new immigrants, were developed around the state.
The law requires children to attend school regardless of immigration status, but fear of deportation can make unauthorized families reluctant to bring their children to school. To mitigate this quandary, California law protects student information from being delivered to federal immigration enforcement authorities. The California Department of Education advises local school districts that:
Yes. Citizenship is not a condition for enrollment in California's system of community and four-year colleges. Undocumented students who are residents of California may attend California public colleges at resident tuition rates, a policy established in 2001.
In 2019, 427,345 undocumented students were pursuing postsecondary education in the US, about 2% of the national total. The rate was somewhat higher in California: 94,030 undocumented college students comprised about 3% of the state total. For up-to-date advice on undocumented students attending college, readers can look to the National Immigration Law Center, The California School Boards Association, and EdTrust-West.
The California DREAM Act, signed by then-Governor Brown in 2011, eased access to higher education for undocumented students in California. The law established Jan 1, 2013 as the date when undocumented residents of California could receive state financial aid such as Cal Grants to help cover their college costs. The law also allowed public higher ed institutions in California to provide scholarships and other aid under specific guidelines.
California policies regarding undocumented students frequently differ from federal policies. For example, federal rules exclude undocumented students from federal financial aid, student loan programs, and work-study programs. From the start the pandemic until May 2021, undocumented students could not receive COVID-19 emergency cash assistance from their colleges.
Many undocumented college students who came to the US as children have protections from deportation under the beleaguered Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which also makes these students eligible for work permits.
The Obama administration created this policy using an executive order. President Trump halted the program, also by executive order. The question worked its way up to the Supreme Court, which upheld DACA in 2020. The ruling was narrow and complex. In 2022, President Biden extended the program.
By removing the risk of deportation, the DACA program created an incentive for undocumented students to pursue college. According to a 2019 survey, a robust 93% of respondents currently in school said that because of DACA, “[They] pursued educational opportunities that [they] previously could not.” 46% of respondents reported already having a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Other research shows that after the enactment of DACA in 2012, eligible students experienced an immediate and persistent increase in school attendance, high school completion, and, to some extent, college attendance.
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