New Report Highlights Challenges for Undocumented Students at UC Berkeley

BERKELEY, CA. – May 7, 2015 – Hunger, fear of deportation, and a lack of financial aid shape the experience of undocumented students at UC Berkeley, according to a new research report. DREAMers at Cal: The Impact of Immigration Status on Undocumented Students at the University of California at Berkeley provides data and recommendations for university, state, and federal officials seeking to support the success of undocumented students in higher education.

Published by the International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) at UC Berkeley School of Law, the report explores the impact of an undocumented status on students’ path to higher education, university experience, and plans for the future. Its findings are based on surveys and interviews of UC Berkeley’s undocumented students.

The clinic launched the study after establishing the nation’s first on-campus Legal Services Programs for undocumented students in 2012. The report’s lead author, Clinical Instructor Allison Davenport, supervises the legal program—which has served over 250 undocumented students.

The release of DREAMers at Cal coincides with a national summit convened by UC President Janet Napolitano and the President’s Advisory Council on Undocumented Students on May 7—8 in Oakland, Calif.

Who are the DREAMers?

Among the estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. is a generation of young immigrants educated in the United States. Over a quarter of undocumented youth in the nation reside in California, and it is estimated that over 2,000 undocumented undergraduate and graduate students are currently enrolled in the UC system. These young immigrants, known as DREAMers, have become not only more visible on college campuses, but also in the national debate on immigration reform.

Navigating Higher Education

The report identifies barriers to higher education due to undocumented status. These students are ineligible for federal financial aid despite their clear need. Nearly all students in the study (94%) reported annual family incomes of less than $50,000 with the vast majority of households (88%) living below 150% of the federal poverty level.

Despite recent state initiatives to provide financial assistance to these young scholars, the report’s findings reveal the precarious situation of undocumented students at one of the world’s premier public universities. Nearly three-quarters of students (73%) reported skipping meals or reducing the size of their meals while studying at UC Berkeley. Almost a quarter (21%) of students reported a period of homelessness or lack of stable housing while enrolled at the university.

“New policies and sources of financial aid have extended a lifeline to these students, and yet they continue to face serious deprivations,” Davenport said. “The situation is likely even more dire for students in states and on campuses where that type of aid and support is unavailable.” Among the report’s recommendations are to extend access to federal financial aid for undocumented students and expand the eligibility criteria and pool of resources available in California.

DREAMers and their families

Nearly all students in the study came to the U.S. more than a decade ago when most were under the age of 12. Most belong to mixed status families, and Davenport says that means “family members under the same roof are living very different lives due to immigration status: one may enjoy full citizenship, while another lives in constant fear of deportation.”

Over half (57%) of the undocumented students surveyed indicated they have a sibling with lawful permanent status or U.S. citizenship, slightly more (59%) have an undocumented sibling, and several reported the deportation of a close relative.

The legal landscape shifted in 2012, when the Obama administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary permission to live and work in the U.S. to certain eligible young immigrants. “DACA has provided stability and new opportunities to so many UC students,” said Davenport, “but its future is uncertain, and those students who do not qualify for the program continue to live without legal protection and permission to work.”

The report examines the central role of family for these students and how concern for family shapes their decisions. “DACA is a welcome change” said Davenport, “but there is no peace of mind for these students until their parents and siblings have legal protection.”

For More Information

For more information about DREAMers at Cal, please contact: Allison Davenport, clinical instructor and supervising attorney, International Human Rights Law Clinic, 510-642-4139,

For more information about the National Summit on Undocumented Students, visit or contact