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Immigration, Education, and DACA

Immigration Laws & Rights

This article addresses frequently asked questions about immigration, education, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Here, learn about immigration, education, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) issues. Gain an understanding of the rights of undocumented children to primary and secondary education in the U.S., the criteria for state and federal financial aid for higher education, and the immigration relief options open to undocumented students. 

Special thanks to American Gateways for their contributions to this article.

If my children are here in the U.S. but are undocumented, can they attend school and get a K-12 education?

Undocumented children in the United States have the same rights as any other child to a primary and secondary education. Parents or guardians should follow state education laws about minors' education. In Texas, unless your child falls into a specific exception, the state requires children between the ages of six and 18 to attend school. 

Do I need legal status to apply for or attend college?

No. Anyone in the United States, whether undocumented or not, may attend colleges and universities. Speak to an admissions officer first to determine what specific steps you need to take to apply and enroll, as well as whether you qualify for state and federal financial aid. 

Do I need legal status to file a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and get federal student aid?

Yes. Only people with certain statuses in the United States may receive federal financial aid for higher education. Undocumented students, including DACA students, are not eligible for federal student aid. People eligible to receive federal student financial aid include:

  • U.S. citizens
  • Permanent residents (green card holders)
  • People that have an Arrival-Departure document (I-94) with these statuses:
    • Refugee
    • Asylum granted
    • Cuban-Haitian entrant (status pending)
    • Conditional entrant (valid only if issued before April 1, 1980)
    • Parolee
    • Those with a battered or crime victim immigrant status (U visa and/or VAWA deferred action status) and their children
    • T visa holder

For more information check Many non-U.S. citizens qualify for federal student aid.

What kind of student financial aid can undocumented students apply for?

Some states and universities have dedicated funds for undocumented students. Texas does allow eligible undocumented students to receive state aid. To qualify for state aid, students must submit the Texas Application for Financial Aid, and prove they are Texas residents. 

Higher education institutions also offer financial aid in the form of merit-based academic scholarships. Some schools participate in programs that award need-based grants and scholarships. Contact your academic institution for more information. 

Do all undocumented students pay out-of-state tuition rates for college?

It depends on the state where you go to college. The Texas Dream Act of 2001 provides in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities for undocumented students if they meet certain requirements:

  • Graduated from a Texas high school, or earned a high school equivalency diploma (GED) in Texas.
  • Lived in Texas for three years before enrolling in a Texas higher education institution.
  • Signed an affidavit (sworn statement) saying that they will seek legal residency as soon as possible. 

What kind of immigration relief is available for undocumented students?

Due to ongoing litigation, no new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications are being adjudicated by US CIS. Only those individuals who currently have DACA can submit a renewal application. If you have never had DACA in the past, it is not recommended that you submit an application at this time. 

To be eligible for DACA, applicants must:

  • Have arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday;
  • Have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007;
  • Have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 (the date DACA was announced);
  • Have had no lawful status as of June 15, 2012;
  • Have been under age 30 as of June 15, 2012;
  • Currently be in school; have graduated high school or completed a GED; or be an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or the U.S. Armed Forces;
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, one significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanor offenses that do not arise from a single event or misconduct;
  • Not pose a threat to public safety or national security.

For more information about the requirements to qualify for DACA, see Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA is just one form of immigration relief. Undocumented students, including those who do not qualify for DACA, may be eligible for other immigration relief. Please consider speaking with an experienced immigration attorney or DOJ-accredited representative to determine whether you qualify for other immigration relief. 

What will happen to DACA?

Due to ongoing litigation, it is unclear what will happen to DACA. DHS has issued regulations regarding DACA, but those regulations are limited by the current litigation. 

See DHS Issues Regulation to Preserve and Fortify DACA. All DACA recipients and DACA-eligible individuals should pay close attention to the news (or talk to an immigration lawyer) for the most up-to-date information. 

What kind of benefits do DACA student recipients get?

DACA is not a permanent immigration status and does not offer a path to citizenship. However, students who are granted deferred action status under DACA get certain benefits, including:

  • Temporary protection from deportation, which can be renewed every two years*
  • Permission to work legally in the U.S.
  • The ability to obtain a social security card and state ID or driver’s license.

Is DACA a path to citizenship?

No. DACA does not grant legal status. It delays deportation for two years if it is granted, so it must be renewed every two years.

Can I travel abroad with my DACA status?

No. DACA itself does not give you legal status. DACA recipients should not leave the U.S. unless they are granted an exception known as advance parole.  Because of the uncertainty with DACA, it is very important that you consult with an immigration attorney to assess any risks before you travel outside of the US, even with a grant of advance parole. .  

Advance parole is given for academic, work, and/or humanitarian purposes, and evidence must be submitted before you leave the country. Talk to an immigration attorney for more information and to see if you qualify for Advance Parole.

Can DACA recipients participate in study abroad programs?

DACA recipients may now apply for advanced parole, but due to the uncertainty with it is very important that you consult with an immigration attorney to assess any risks before you travel outside of the US, even with a grant of advance parole. 

Once I am granted DACA deferred action status, when should I renew it?

Your DACA status is only valid for two years. 

You should submit your renewal application approximately 5 months prior to the expiration of your DACA status and work permit. To renew, applicants must submit a new set of forms and pay a fee. Failure to renew your DACA will leave you without legal status once your DACA expires. Talk to an immigration attorney to help you renew your deferred action status

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