The act that would threaten benefits for more

lives of undocumented college
students can be a struggle because of the dichotomy that society imposes on
them. They are allowed to enroll and succeed in college, yet they are viewed as
illegal and are faced with the reality of not being able to work in their
chosen field of study because of their immigration status. By the time
undocumented students get to college, they have already faced social, academic
and financial challenges aggravated by prejudice and fear toward them in their
local schools and communities. This form of prejudice creates a toxic
environment, which increases the risk of psychological issues in this
particular population.    

to Brice (2017), in 2012 President Obama adopted a policy that would protect
this class, however, Trump’s campaign promised to repeal the Deferred Action
for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an act that would threaten benefits for more
than 700,000 young immigrants in the United States. Originally, applying for
DACA seemed like a positive step in the right direction towards permanent
residency. However, since there has been a change of government administration
it now makes undocumented immigrants a target for deportation. Generation 1.5,
a term used to identify people who arrived in United States as children and
adolescents. This group is unique because many of them have no direct
connection to their native countries, however, they are not considered American
(Rojas, 2012). This experience causes a split in their identities and a feeling
of isolation. Although many of these students go through the same American
educational system as their peers, their experiences are unique and much more
complicated.  There is an estimated 11.3
million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States, making up 3.5
percent of the nation’s population (Lobdell, 2016). Today’s political climate
creates even more uncertainty, especially for those undocumented students that
have been in the United States as young children.

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Struggles of an Undocumented Student (Case

            Juana was eleven years
old when she first stepped foot in the United States and instantly became an
undocumented Latina immigrant. She was born and raised in the Dominican
Republic with her parents and three siblings. At nine years old, her father
decided to move his family to Mexico in pursuit of a business venture and
better life for his family, but after increasing violence in their hometown, he
made the decision to migrate to the United States despite the illegal implications
that it entailed. With the help of a coyote, Juana and her family crossed over to Texas from Mexico and then made
their way to New York where they stayed in a cramped one bedroom apartment with
eight other people. The change proved to be more radical than she had imagined.
Language, culture and her vastly different living environment were significant
barriers that became traumatic for her, and at eleven years old she began to
experience her first symptoms of anxiety and depression.

            Her anxiety only escalated after she
was enrolled in school for the first time in the United States. Due to a lack
of space in the bilingual class, Juana and her brother were placed in English
only classes and were left to fend for themselves in the first few weeks of classes.
Her teacher did not speak Spanish and the school itself had very few Latinos in
the school, both teachers and students alike. “It was a feeling of being in
limbo, because we couldn’t understand anything that was being said”. This was
particularly hard for Juana because she had excelled academically for most of
her life before coming to the United States and although her goals and
aspirations were still significantly high, the barriers were making it
difficult for her to progress and move forward. With time, Juana began to fall
into step with her new life and adapt to American society but the feeling of
uncertainty and alienation continues to affect her and this is evident from the
continued psychosomatic symptoms that afflicts her even today.

As she graduated from high school, Juana knew that her immigration
status would prevent her from receiving financial aid for college and her only
choice was to enroll in a community college where she would pay less tuition
than she would in a four year college. She applied and was accepted into a City
University of New York (CUNY) community college. Upon her enrollment at the
college, she followed her older brother in gaining acceptance into the
Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), an academic support program
that aims to assists students from low socioeconomic backgrounds,
complete their associate’s degree by providing financial, academic and career
related support. Juana was one of very few undocumented students selected to be
a part of this program which provided much needed financial support throughout
her two years at the college. Although undocumented students are not eligible
for a tuition waiver as part of the program policies, an emergency scholarship
fund was created to support the needs of students in this population. Juana has
high aspirations of becoming an accountant some day and is currently running
her family’s business, a small “antojitos” food stand that sells homemade food
and is staffed by the entire family, including her youngest siblings. But she
also understands that there are barriers that may prevent her from achieving
her goals. The money she has saved by working at her family’s business, has
allowed her to put aside enough money to pay for one semester after she
graduates and enrolls in a four year college. However, it is a constant
struggle as she cannot control or predict her future.

Literature Review

According to McLeod (2017), “Erikson’s (1959) theory of psychosocial
development has eight distinct stages, taking in five stages up to the age of
18 years and three further stages beyond, well into adulthood. Erikson suggests
that there is still plenty of room for continued growth and development
throughout one’s life. Erikson puts a great deal of emphasis on the adolescent
period, feeling it was a crucial stage for developing a person’s identity”.
Erikson’s fifth stage is identity vs role confusion and it occurs during
adolescence, 12-18 years old. During this stage, the adolescent is trying to
find his or her place in the world and figure out who he or she is. This is a
major stage in development due to the fact that it carries over into adulthood
and failure to establish an identity can lead to role confusion. Juana is now a
young adult and although she has goals, she still struggles with her role in
society, knowing that her goals are unattainable because of her immigrant

Juana’s whole life was shifted, she was uprooted from a life that was
stable to a life where she could not even engage with her peers due to the
language barrier. This caused her to feel isolated and different from those
around her, leaving her uncertain of her place in society. This feeling has
diminished her sense of belonging and left her with an inability to
self-identify. According to John, Robins & Pervin (2008), “imagine living
in such a complex social environment without any stable awareness of your
position in the social structure and the roles you play in different contexts
and with different interaction partners”. The adjustment of living in a new
country proved to be difficult and the experience was foreign. Juana, who
always shined academically began to feel worthless and less than her peers,
which resulted in depression.

Undocumented immigrants face numerous barriers
with varying
degrees of racism and anti-immigration societal beliefs, as they struggle to gain acceptance into the United States.
However, what makes this group extremely different is that they were brought to
the United States as young children and are connected to the American culture,
but are not socially accepted by Americans or their native countries. As human
beings we yearn to be accepted, which determines how we interact with the world
around us as adults. The feeling of isolation can negatively impact us during
our adolescent stage and affect us long term. This can lead to anxiety and
depression, like Juana has experienced, but can also lead down a darker path
such as alcohol and substance abuse.

To understand the categorization of race and various
forms of oppression, it is helpful to refer to a theoretical framework that
examines the distinctive encounters of undocumented Latino college students in
higher education. A Latina/o Critical Race Theory (LatCrit) Framework examines
race, class, and gender related experiences of Latino students (Huber &
Malagon, 2007). This framework also highlight how immigration status affects
the very unique educational experiences of this population. Some of the
resources that will aide their experiences and create positive opportunities
for undocumented Latino students include social support, financial aid and
campus climate. As a college student, it is difficult enough navigating through
campus offices and resources, but for undocumented students, they not only need
information and guidance about the college-going process and experience, but
they also need information about how their legal status will present specific
barriers (Huber & Malagon, 2007). 
Fortunately, Juana has found a program that decreases some of the
financial burden set upon her, however, she still struggles with how she views
herself and identifying where she belongs in this world.

students face numerous barriers not only in the educational realm, but various
degrees of stress and problems. According to Duran & Weffer (1992), they
are dealing with emotional stress as it relates to adjusting to a new
environment. As students, they must learn how to deal with English as a second
language and not being able to fully communicate or interact with people. They
must also try to integrate themselves into an environment that is new and
unfamiliar. Many of them also deal with the pressures of being the sole
providers of their households, usually being employed in places where they are
overworked and underpaid.  All of these
factors combined is a recipe for disaster, putting them in situations where
they feel hopeless. Juana suffers from anxiety and depression, this only
intensifies because her future in unknown. She does not only fear for herself,
but also for her family and because of today’s political climate her anxiety is

Society & Undocumented Students

the significance of race in our society, it is surprising how complex the
definitions of race and racism can be. Race and racism are fundamental and unavoidable
parts of our culture and social history, at some point you have either been a
victim of race and racism, or you have participated in it. Whether done
consciously or unconsciously, people are often labeled or categorized into
groups based on ethnicity, social status and/or physical appearance. These
human differences are used to infer placement in
the social hierarchy of society (NASW, 2007). The classification of people
founded on race and race related characteristics has been around for an
unexplainable amount of years and has been the main source used to discriminate
against people of color and impoverished individuals, which in many cases is
the same profile used to discriminate against undocumented immigrants. This
discrimination forms into the obstacles that we put in front of this population
by limiting their access to resources and opportunities to live a sustainable
life (Jones, 2000).

many look to the United States as the land of opportunity and not as the place
that shuts doors on people before they are even given the opportunity to
succeed. However, with new government administration the dream of having a
better life has been crushed and the probability of immigrant’s lives being
ripped a part has become a reality. According to Sacchetti (2017), immigration
arrests rose 32.6 percent in the first few weeks of Trump taking office, with Immigration
and Customs Enforcement agents not only targeting undocumented immigrants with
criminal records, but also thousands of immigrants who are law-abiding. The
arrests of immigrants with no criminal records more than doubled to 5,441,
which is clearly a sign that Trump has done away with Obama’s protective stance
towards most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United
States. There have even been stories of Americans being detained because they
fit the profile of a “terrorist”. These situations have caused an extreme
amount of fear, not only for undocumented immigrants, but for Americans all
over the world. However, we have heard over and over “united we stand, but
divided we fall”, this saying could not be more accurate. As a country, we must
ban together regardless of race, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status, so
that our voices are heard. We cannot be passive or tolerant of these issues
because there are deeper ramifications than what is on the surface, we are
ultimately creating mental health issues and damaging many innocent people’s

Working in an institution that
embraces undocumented students has given me the ability to formulate
relationships that are emotionally bonding. It has also given me the
opportunity to hear and witness some of the stories and issues that “Dreamers”
face on a day to day basis. Take Juana’s case, a dedicated and driven
undocumented student, who was recently offered two separate scholarships for
four year institutions, yet was faced with the reality of once again being
isolated when she was asked for her social security number. Many undocumented
students work diligently to better their lives, but at every corner hit a wall
that does not let them advance or further in life. There is widespread
anti-immigrant sentiment and hate being thrown around on a daily basis, without
the full understanding that some of these voices and faces are similar to any other
American on a quest for a better life.

Social movements can bring attention
to the systemic weaknesses that socially and emotionally handicap this
population. The goal of advocacy is to change structures and bridge the gap
between social service and social change, and as such it is imperative that we
advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves because of the fear of
being targeted. Undocumented children and young adults are one of the most
vulnerable populations in our society and are susceptible to negative long term
psychological effects brought on by very blatant discrimination. It is
important to understand that our children and young adults are capable of
becoming leader’s in future economic and political roles, given that they
receive the same opportunities as their documented peers. Advocating for our youth,
undocumented or otherwise, ensures
that students from all backgrounds and status have the opportunity to succeed
in college and beyond. Over
time, beliefs and practices about power and privilege are woven into national,
legal and political doctrine (Aspen, 2004).

Racism is part of our society and
will continue to be part of our structures and policies unless intentional
efforts are set forth to create positive change. It is extremely important to
acknowledge how these individual cases impact our society as a whole. It is
also very important that we bring awareness to this issue because mental health
continues to grow within the United States and forms of interventions need to
be developed to reduce the growing number. In the end, Juana made a statement
that encapsulates the feelings of so many undocumented students struggling to
figure out their future and find their place in society; “I have the courage to
make changes, I just need a chance”.