Path to College Fraught with Roadblocks for Undocumented Students

This post was last updated on September 29, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.

As Florida’s response to COVID-19 takes front and center, concern grows for low-income families who struggle to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Although Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address, at least in part,  the public health crisis and economic fallout from COVID-19, many barriers continue to keep struggling families from accessing the assistance they need during the pandemic. As Florida initiates policies implementing the Act and addressing other barriers to the safety net, FPI will update this form. When available, hyperlinks are provided to agency documents or statements that provide greater detail  about the new policy.

On March 22, 2020, FPI and 44 other organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, leadership in the Legislature and agency heads to urge action on 47 specific policy changes to reduce unnecessary barriers for Florida’s safety net programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter here.

Being undocumented was something I did not fully understand until my eighth-grade year. In middle school, I was one of the few students chosen to receive the Take Stock in Children of Manatee County scholarship for my high academic standing and good conduct. When I asked my parents for my social security number in order to fill out the application requirements, they informed me of my status as an undocumented student. I was unable to complete the application — I was ineligible since I was not a U.S. citizen. My academic performance and good moral conduct were factors that no longer mattered. At first, I felt a little hopeless about my goal of becoming a physician and wondered whether or not I could achieve my goal due to this obstacle. Yet, little did I know that I would receive so much help from my family, the DACA policy and the UnidosNow program to pursue my dream.

When I was a high school junior, I learned that I was ineligible for state aid, which included the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship program and FAFSA. Being an Army JROTC student for four years in high school, I also considered joining the army but learned that I would be unable to since I was a non-U.S. citizen. I was accepted into the UnidosNow Future Leaders Academy summer program as a rising senior with the purpose of learning and understanding the post-secondary education process. As a first generation DACA student, this program helped me apply to colleges and universities, look for scholarships I was eligible for and realize that I could pursue my dream despite the barriers I face due to my citizenship status.

I applied to several Florida universities and for several private scholarships. I wrote many essays and studied for the ACT, all while attending a technical college to obtain my Patient Care Technician certificate during my senior year. I am so grateful for the UnidosNow staff, because they helped me gain confidence and gave me the determination and support that I needed to apply for post-secondary education. The staff also helped prepare me for the college process in ways that my parents could not due to their lack of understanding in this area.

I received more than five acceptance letters from Florida universities and was fortunate to receive some private scholarships from my local community. As my high school and technical college graduations approached in May, I received news that TheDream.Us had chosen me as a scholarship recipient, which would cover my tuition at the University of Central Florida. I was beyond excited and grateful to receive this scholarship since it gives students like me an opportunity to achieve their dreams regardless of citizenship status.

Unfortunately, not everyone has this opportunity. Some students do not have the privilege to receive national or private scholarships or have DACA. Therefore, they lose the opportunity to achieve their dreams due to lack of financial aid and local support from their communities and state. DACA recipients are unable to get loans, which further limits our resources to pay for post-secondary education. Expanding financial aid to the undocumented community in Florida would help them apply for state aid programs such as Florida Bright Futures and the need-based Florida Student Assistance Grant Program. This would help the economy since undocumented students would boost graduation rates and increase the labor force participation rate; additionally, they would work at higher paying jobs after graduating from post-secondary schools, which is beneficial to federal finances.

Leslye Trujillo is a first-generation DACA student and recipient of a TheDream.US scholarship. She’s currently a sophomore at the University of Central Florida pursuing a degree in biomedical sciences. She will join the Florida Policy Institute in a policy presentation and panel discussion on the importance of expanding financial aid for Florida’s DREAMers at the Florida College Access Network Summit May 8, 2019.

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