The anxiety of undocumented students

The LA Times profiles undocumented post-secondary students.

A 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision entitled illegal immigrants to public education from kindergarten through high school; 50,000 to 70,000 graduate from U.S. high schools each year (California’s share, by some estimates, is 40%), according to experts. But the students’ access to higher education has not been guaranteed by the courts and Congress.

Over the last seven years, California and nine other states have encouraged undocumented college students to pursue higher education by offering many who graduated from California high schools in-state tuition. California public universities do not ask about legal status on applications. Some private universities, including Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara, have scholarships tailored for illegal immigrants. They are not entitled to most financial aid or loans at public colleges.

Their numbers at the university level remain low. The UC system had an estimated 271 to 433 undocumented students, out of total enrollment of 214,000, in 2006-2007, the latest figure available, a spokesman said.

But attending college, and even doing splendidly, does nothing to alter these students’ illegal status. A proposed federal law called the Dream Act would have offered a pathway to citizenship for many college students and members of the military. But supporters last year were unable to secure enough votes to prevent a filibuster of the bill.

Opponents said the students are looting limited educational resources that should go to citizens and legal residents.

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