SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The 7th Annual Undocumented Student Week of Action (USAW) got underway on October 16th with a series of virtual and in-person workshops, webinars and activities for students, faculty, staff and administrators that focus on advocating and supporting undocumented students. In California alone, there are an estimated 94,030 undocumented students in higher education, with approximately 49,704 of them DACA-eligible. The “week of action” helps ensure undocumented students can access the information, services, resources and assistance they need.

Lizette Navarette, the Executive Vice Chancellor for the Institutional Supports and Success Office at California Community Colleges, described the event as crucial in supporting the long-term success of undocumented students and communities at large.

“Throughout the week, we’ve had two webinars daily, emphasizing ways that we can support undocumented students with resources,” Navarette told CALÓ NEWS.  “Some focused on how students can be allies to other students, others focused on how we can empower students to speak up and partner in advocacy efforts on campus at the state or federal level.” 

The California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the nation, composed of 73 districts and 116 colleges serving 1.9 million students annually. According to a report by Immigrants Rising released in 2019, California Community Colleges serve an estimated 50,000-70,000 undocumented post-secondary students.

Members of the California Community Colleges, students, and their families attended the Undocumented Student Action Week kickoff event to learn about the programs, resources, and services available to them on Oct. 16 at Fresno City College. Photo courtesy from The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office

The state of California has a long and complex history with undocumented communities, and advocates say that access to higher education for undocumented students has come a long way since Assembly Bill AB 540 was signed into law in 2001, allowing eligible undocumented students living in the state to access in-state tuition. There are policies that now help undocumented communities have greater access to education that is either low-cost or no-cost, and provide employment opportunities.

Despite a recent federal court ruling in Texas that determined the DACA program to be unlawful, there are advocates in higher education who continue to encourage recruitment. “Part of what we are providing is financial resources, legal guidance, tools and environments that recognize the contributions that undocumented students make to our state, country and communities,” Navarette said. The Biden administration is appealing the decision and it is likely to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

 Attendees at the Undocumented Student Action Week kickoff event at Fresno City College on Oct. 16 at Fresno City College were able to ask questions and learn about the programs, resources and services available to them. Photo courtesy from The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office

Despite the uncertainty, the chancellor’s office, in partnership with statewide advocacy organizations, is working to ensure students have timely access to DACA resources and information. Navarette said that now more than ever, support for undocumented communities must be shown through actions, not just gestures. 

“We felt that we have a role to play in emphasizing to communities that may be scared that there is a place for them.” Navarette said, “and that there are resources that we want to put forward and help guide them to navigate and access.”

The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, Foundation for California Community Colleges, the Community College League of California and dozens of statewide partners collaborated in the execution of the convening at Fresno City College.

Michelle Zacarias is an award-winning journalist and adjunct instructor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where she teaches Engaging Diverse Communities. Originally from Chicago...