Who Are Undocumented Students?

Student with Books

I am the first one in my entire family to attend a university. At first I had no idea what to expect and had no one to guide me or mentor me along the way. It became frustrating at times since I didn't feel comfortable “coming out” as an undocumented student even to classmates and peers. I often felt like my options were limited, but I always kept my goal very present. I was attending this university to improve my life and secure the future of my family. I graduated this past summer, and even though it wasn't easy, it was worth every struggle because through my education I was able to get promoted at my current job.

— Undocumented SJSU Student

Roughly 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. High Schools every year.

By definition, an undocumented student (immigrant) is a foreign national who: (1) entered the United States without inspection or with fraudulent documents; or (2) entered legally as a nonimmigrant but then violated the terms of his or her status and remained in the United States without authorization (as defined by the National Immigration Law Center). In contrasts, a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) is defined as a person who was granted the right to live permanently in the United States. An LPR is a “green card” holder that is allowed to legally work and live in the United States.

According to a study by the Urban Institute in Washington D.C., approximately 65,000 undocumented immigrant youth graduate from high schools all over the nation each year, with a significant number of this population residing in California. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of these students go on to pursue a college degree as a result of the financial costs that it may constitute to their families.

The majority of undocumented students are characterized as youth that were brought to the United States by their parents at an early age and have lived in this country for a significant portion of their lives, learning the language and adapting to the same American customs taught to other students in schools. Undocumented students also include many that have excelled academically in high schools and wish to pursue a college education.