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New Study Considers Overlooked Immigration Issues in Higher Education

November 7, 2016
Gillings School of Global Public Health

In a recent study, researchers investigated how youth in North Carolina can be “locked out” of educational opportunities through complicated immigration policy.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, more than 2.3 million undocumented youth in the United States are eligible to apply for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). DACA is a complex immigration status issued through an executive action by President Obama after comprehensive immigration reform failed to pass in Congress.

The status protects youth from deportation, but does not guarantee them legal residency. Youth covered by the policy are not eligible for federal financial aid to attend college and, in North Carolina, DACA recipients are not eligible for in-state tuition. They often are charged international student rates based on the policies of individual institutions; in practice, this means that four-year public university education is unaffordable for many young people who were raised in the state.

To explore the realities of DACA, researchers collaborated with youth living under the policy in North Carolina. Study co-authors associated with the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill include Kashika Sahay, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Maternal and Child Health and five-year fellow in the Graduate School’s Royster Society of Fellows; Kari Thatcher, alumna of the Department of Health Behavior; and Alexandra Lightfoot, research assistant professor of health behavior. These investigators worked with Cruz Núñez, a community partner at the Center for Youth in Carrboro, North Carolina, to document their research.

Their findings, with the title “‘It’s Like We Are Legally, Illegal’: Latino/a Youth Emphasize Barriers to Higher Education Using Photovoice,” were published online in the Fall 2016 issue of the High School Journal (HSJ). HSJ is a peer-reviewed education journal published by The University of North Carolina Press.

“We decided to publish in an education journal because our findings are especially important for teachers who want to see students pursue higher education,” said Sahay, a study co-author. “We wanted to reach out to the most appropriate audience, because we think the paper is extremely relevant to future immigration reform.”

Read the full article online.

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