How Can Higher Education Institutions Support DACA Students?

With current unrest felt throughout the country and the anxiety associated with the Trump Administration, support for immigrants and their families are needed now more than ever. With all of the resistance that immigrant families are experiencing, some immigrant youth, DACA students, have used higher education to advance themselves. Higher educational institutions, says Leonor L. Wangensteen, “have tremendous power to be reliable sources of information, stability, and comfort to students and their families.” So how can they begin, or continue to, show their support?

Welcome DACA students to campus

Being “undocufriendly” is a big influencer for students when applying to a college, as seen in a 2015 survey of over 900 students. Colleges should openly recognize undocumented students by creating a campus that is not only inclusive but educated in various cultures. Policies, practices, and training that focus on diversity and inclusion should be enacted for campus faculty, staff, and students. Colleges are called to strike a balance between complete diversity and upholding their institutional beliefs.

Construct “safe spaces”

Colleges can build a sense of community by ensuring that throughout campus there are protected spaces for the undocumented and their allies to gather comfortably and without threat. These spaces can be in highly populated areas on campus such as dorms, students centers, or online. They can also take the form of smaller gestures, says Gaby Pacheco, it “can be as simple as creating a spot for students to rest, like a couch.” 

Build a network
Creating a network on campus is integral to supporting DACA students. This network of individuals will work closely with undocumented students. It must be given visibility throughout campus, especially in high volume areas. These individuals will have their ear on the ground, talking with undocumented students, hearing their stories, and compiling their opinions and feedback. These individuals will bridge undocumented students with those of influence on campus.

By gathering their stories, there will also be a record of how undocumented students contribute not only to campus life but to their country as well.

Establish resources and outreach programs

Institutions can construct a stand-alone center, like UC Davis and their Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity. They can also find ways to expand and adjust existing programs in order to help undocumented students. Faculty and staff should receive training in order to be more knowledgeable about how they can help undocumented students.

Many undocumented students are unaware that campus services are open to them as well. Make clear that resources, such as scholarships, are open to everyone, regardless of their status. Connect students with people, groups, and programs that work with the undocumented in applying for these scholarships and in searching for other funds. Colleges should also use their large network to connect students with those who specialize in immigration law and rights. They should ensure that students and their families stay up to date on the current state of immigration policy and be aware of the legal support that is available to them.

Under this point, colleges should assist students not only throughout their college life, but help pave a path for them outside of college through career programs or connect them with associated organizations. Because of their undocumented status, these students put in the time and dedication to higher education but find that the next step, career building, is again blocked off.

Lastly, though equally important, colleges should use resources and outreach to support undocumented students’ mental health as well. With the socioeconomic, legal, and cultural stressors that they experience, undocumented students tend to feel isolated and suffer from anxiety and depression.


In order to adequately protect undocumented students, colleges must stay up to date on immigration policies. They should have policies in place to protect students should ICE get involved, including maintaining student confidentiality and support if there is an immediate threat of deportation.

Undocumented students are the product of idealism and policy that continues to meet conflict. Higher education institutions have the potential to be safe havens that allow undocumented students to show what they can do. They can equip them with the proper tools and confidence to participate in American society and continue to earn their place equally at the table along with everyone else.

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