Educator Resources

On this page I have compiled resources for educators working with undocumentd students and students from immigrant families.  There are three kinds of resources:  answers to frequently asked questions; material on recent and past legislative changes (i.e. California Dream Act and Federal Dream Act) and what they mean for Dream students; and scholarly articles, reports, and periodicals about undocumented students and how we can better serve their needs.

This page is intended as a primer and is sure to be outdated given our quickly changing demographic and legislative landscape.  Much of what is in here is from my work with other Bay Area educators as part of Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC).  Since I was working with UCSC students when I started this page, there is a UC focus, yet the material is relevant to all Dream students.  I welcome any suggestions you may have of material to add or revisions to make.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What is AB540?

AB540 refers to Assembly Bill 540, signed in October 2001 by Governor Gray Davis and authored by Marco Antonio Firebaugh (Southeast LA County State Assemblymember).  The bill allowed students who attended a California high school and graduated from a California high school to be exempt from paying out-of-state tuition (more below).

2. What is the best term to use?

Some of the most common terms now in use are: undocumented students, Dream students, AB540 students, and students from immigrant families.  My advice is to notice or ask the student you are working with about what term they use or prefer.  Each student will be different.  The critical point is to notice how your student self-identifies.  When you are referring to undocumented students as a whole, I recommend that you use  “our” Dream students, or “our” Dream student population: Using “our” as much as possible is an important way to signal your alignment.

3. How many Dream students are enrolled in college?

The data available shows the number of undocumented students enrolled at all public universities will continue to increase as a growing number of immigrant youth in California come of age and attempt to pursue a higher education.  The trend in our state is in line with national trends where the number of undocumented students pursuing higher education is drastically increasingly.  There is a misperception that the issue of access to higher education for undocumented students is a Latina/o issue; in fact, the data available on the ethnic distribution of California’s Dream student population shows that the ethnic distribution of undocumented students across the United States mirrors national trends, where a majority of the immigrants are from the North American region (Mexico, Canada, Central America, and the Caribbean), followed by Asia (with China, India, South Korea, and the Philippines as the top sending countries) (Hoefer, 2011).

If you are working in the UC system, The UC Office of the President publishes an AB540 Tuition Exemption Report once a year which gives us an idea of the number of students applying for the tuition exemption.  It gives the number of potentially undocumented students in the UC system as a whole and within each campus.  Getting this kind of data for CSU campuses is a bit more difficult and varies from campus to camps.

4. What is the California Dream Act? and how does it impact financial aid eligibility for Dream students?  The two links below are from the UC Office of the President website.  There is an explanation of what the California Dream is and then a break down of how specifically it impacts financial aid eligibility.

The California Dream Act

Summary of Financial Aid Eligibility for UC Undergraduates Under AB130 and AB131

The California Dream Act- A Guide for Undocumented Students is a guide authored by Educators for Fair Consideration and the California Students Aid Commission

Summary of Important Rulings Leading Up to Today

1982: Plyler vs. Doe

U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling that all students including undocumented students have the right to a free, public school education from K-12 grade in the U.S.   To do so would violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution which applies to any “person,” not just to U.S. citizens.  When it came to postsecondary education, however, no such protections apply to undocumented students. Rather, conflicting federal and state laws and local practices resulted in quite diverse and inequitable treatment for those young people wanting to pursue postsecondary education.

1986: Leticia A. vs. the UC Regents and CSU Board of Trustees

Required the UC and CSU to cease the discriminatory practice of requiring proof of US citizenship/permanent residency when defining state residency for tuition purposes.  Between 1986-1991 in the UC and 1986-1995 at the CSU, students who met state residency requirements were able to receive state financial aid and were charged resident tuition fees

1991: Bradford vs. the UC Regents

In 1990, Bradford a UCLA Registrar’s Office employee sued the Univ. of California, stating that he had been forced to quit his job for refusing to follow the Leticia A. court order. Bradford claims that the University policy resulting from the Leticia A. case is in direct violation with federal responsibility to make laws regulating immigration

Bradford wins his case and as a result undocumented students lose the right to receive state resident tuition and financial aid. The Bradford injunction meant that for the 10 years from 1991 through 2001, undocumented students in the State of California were effectively barred from attending any community college, CSU or UC, even if academically eligible, due to economic constraints.

1996: “Illegal” Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act

Prohibits immigrant students from accessing any postsecondary education benefit unless a U.S. citizen or national is eligible for the same benefit.  Any state that provided in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants must also provide in-state tuition to out-of-state residents.

2001: Assembly Bill 540

June 2001, Texas governor signs HB 1403 which enables immigrant students to qualify as state residents for in-state tuition and financial aid.  In October 2001, Governor Gray Davis signs AB 540, authored by Marco Antonio Firebaugh (Southeast LA Couny State Assemblymemer) which allowed students who attended a California high school and graduated from a California high school to be exempt from paying out-of-state tuition.  Undocumented students in Texas and California are eligible for this exemption because the law is not based on residency, rather on high school attendance.

If you want to know more read Alejandra Rincón’s Si Se Puede! Undocumented Immigrants’ Struggle for Education and Their Right to Stay.  This article is an adaptation of Rincón’s book Undocumented Immigrants and Higher Education: Si Se Puede!  

2. Resource Guides

Repository of Resources for Undocumented Students

3. Student Self-Advocacy Efforts at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC)

Student Informing Now (S.I.N) was the first student advocacy group on campus.  The two articles below, written by founding members of S.I.N., document their efforts

S.I.N. Collective 2007.” Student Informing Now (S.I.N.) Challenge the Racial State in California, Without Shame…Sin Verguenza” Educational Foundations, Winter-Spring 2007

Dominguez, Neidi. 2009. “Constructing a Counternarrative: Students Informing Now (S.I.N.).” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 52.5

4. Bibliography 

Bacon, David. 2008. Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants: Beacon.

Chan, Beleza. October 13, 2008. “Not Just a Latino Issue: Undocumented Students in Higher Education.” Journal of College Admission, Winter 2010.

Education, UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education. 2008. Underground Undergrads.

Educators for Fair Consideration.  “Top Ten Ways to Support Undocumented Students” and  “2012-2013 Fincancial Aid Guide for Undocumented Students.”  Available in the “Resources” section of

Enriquez, Laura.  “Because We Feel the Pressure and We Also Feel the Support: Examining the Educational Success of Undocumented Immigrant Latina/o Students.” Harvard Educational Review. Vol. 81. No. 3. Fall 2011.

Gildersleeve Ryan Evely. “Access Between and Beyond Borders.” Journal of College Admission, Winter 2010.

Gonzales, Roberto.Young Lives on Hold: The College Dreams of Undocumented Students.”  College Board. April 2009.

Hoefer, Michael, Nancy Rytina and Bryan Baker. Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States- January 2011. Department of Homeland Security.  Office of Immigration Statistics.

Perez, William.  National Public Radio Talk “We Are Americans” August 22, 2009

_____. Higher Education Access for Undocumented Students: Recommendations for Counseling Professionals.”  Journal of College Admission, Winter 2010.

Rincón, Alejandra. Si Se Puede! Undocumented Immigrants’ Struggle for Education and Their Right to Stay.  Journal of College Admission, Winter 2010.

_____. 2008. Undocumented Immigrants and Higher Education: Si Se Puede! Illustrated Edition ed: LFB Scholarly Publishing.

Suárez-Orozco Carola, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Robert Teranishi and Marcelo Suaréz-Orozco. “Growing Up in the Shadows: The Developmental Implications of Unauthorized Status.” Harvard Educational Review. Vol. 81. No. 3. Fall 2011.

Thompson Amy. A Child Alone and Without Papers: A Report on the Return and Repatriation of Unaccompanied Undocumented Children by the Unites States. Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Vargas, Jose Antonio “My  Life as an Undocumented Immigrant” Article originally published in the New York Times available now on the Define America Website


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