Community colleges fear deportation concerns are driving away undocumented students

California Community Colleges are reporting a significant drop in financial-aid applications from undocumented immigrants that officials believe is tied to deportation fears under President Donald Trump.

As of Monday, 1,781 undocumented community college students have received Cal Grant awards under the California Dream Act. Applicants must file by Thursday.

Last year, by comparison, 4,624 such students had received Cal Grant awards under the Dream Act by the same March 2 deadline, according to the California Student Aid Commission.

Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley raised the issue Friday in a statement urging all eligible students to apply for Cal Grants as well as other forms of state-funded financial aid by the deadline.

“It’s apparent that the national conversation surrounding immigration and deportation has created an environment that is confusing and threatening to many of our students,” Oakley said. “Under the Dream Act, no student’s personal information is shared at the federal level.

“I encourage all eligible students to apply today for the Cal Grant, as well as other forms of state-funded financial aid, such as the Board of Governors Fee Waiver, that are available year-round.”

Andrea Gaytan, director of the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center at UC Davis, said federal changes on deportation have heightened the sense of fear and anxiety within immigrant communities. Added to that, she said students are ever more confused about the differences between DACA federal protections and the state Dream Act.

Those two factors combined may have played a role in discouraging some students from applying for financial aid, Gaytan said.

DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a federal executive order signed by former President Barack Obama that authorizes eligible undocumented immigrants to work and stay in the country. Gaytan said DACA remains vulnerable under the new administration. The California Dream Act, by contrast, allows undocumented students to receive scholarships and financial aid.

“For those students already admitted and attending, we encourage them to continue applying for scholarships and financing and to work as hard as they can in achieving their educational goals,” Gaytan said, “and to focus on what’s in front of them and not all of the negativity swirling around in terms of fears.”

While immigration enforcement has increased under Trump, the new president has softened his position on DACA students since taking office and hasn’t taken action against them.

Patti Colston, spokeswoman for the California Student Aid Commission, said her office does not have empirical evidence that fear over deportation is driving this year’s decline.

“However, we believe that some of the rhetoric concerning immigration is contributing to the low numbers of applicants this season,” she said. “We want these students to succeed. So we really appreciate the efforts statewide to increase California Dream Act applications.”

California State University and University of California schools also are seeing year-over-year declines, but on a more modest scale. California Community Colleges serve the majority of Dream Act students among the three systems.

The Dream Act allows undocumented students to apply for financial aid available to other state residents. Applications for Cal Grant renewals can be filed after March 2. For more information, visit