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  • Working With Undocumented/DACAmented Students

    February 07, 2018 | By NACE Staff

    Special Populations
    A young DACA student on a college campus.

    TAGS: immigration, best practices, operations, legal issues, diversity and inclusion, nace insights

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    Career services professionals face unique challenges when working with undocumented and DACAmented students. First and foremost, of course, is awareness regarding a student’s status; as practitioners often don’t know if a student is undocumented unless disclosure occurs. Other challenges dive deeper into this complicated issue.  

    “As career practitioners, we are solution focused,” says Ana Clara Blesso, assistant director of experiential learning at the University of Connecticut’s Center for Career Development. “We connect students with opportunities. However, undocumented students face large-scale, life-altering systemic and logistical barriers in the United States, for which there may not be current solutions.”

    For example, undocumented or DACAmented students may fear that if they go to school or are away from home for a semester, their parents or family members will be gone when they get back. Additionally, there are other obstacles they may face, such as not being able to pass a background check, or obtain a driver’s license or health insurance.

    “With DACA being scaled back, there’s the additional fear of what will happen next,” Blesso says. “Undocumented students can’t pursue all of the opportunities that their peers can. There’s a fear of being left behind, and they often feel guilt and shame. It’s a heavy burden.”

    Career services offices should strive to create an environment that is inclusive, helpful, and informed so undocumented students are comfortable with their decision to disclose and confident they can get the help they need to navigate the higher education system and the job search.

    Creating such an environment starts with the words you use.

    “Professionals need to be aware of the language used when engaging with this student population and be as inclusive as possible,” Blesso advises, adding that using words like “alien” or “illegal” might be perceived as dehumanizing to an undocumented student.

    This awareness should extend throughout the career center space and beyond. Everything—from the posters on the walls to the types of programming you offer—should be sensitive to and inclusive of undocumented students.

    “Make sure your programming, events, and policies aren’t all exclusionary by nature,” Blesso says. “An example would be if an office is looking to eliminate unpaid internships from their databases and systems. In theory, that can be an okay idea, as we want to see our students be compensated for their time. At the same time, undocumented students aren’t able to participate in anything that’s paid, potentially, so we may be excluding them from some meaningful experiences.”

    Having inclusive resources and information on your career center’s website is another effective practice.

    “From my experience,” she notes, “undocumented students are going online first to look for information. If there’s nothing available on your career center’s website, undocumented students might assume that there’s nothing available for them at your center.”

    Blesso offers some other tips for working with undocumented students:

    • Be mindful of your own reaction—When someone says the word “undocumented,” what image comes to your mind? Being aware of implicit bias and how you might react when students disclose to you can help ensure that you create the most welcoming and most inclusive environment possible. 
    • Stay up to date—National advocacy groups—such as United We Dream and the National Immigration Law Center—can keep you informed and in tune to the rhetoric on a national scale. However, because there’s a great deal of variation in approaches by state, seek out state-based groups as well. For example, Connecticut Students for a Dream is well-versed in Connecticut-specific policies. Freedom University in Georgia and DREAMzone in Arizona are valuable resources to people in those states. Many of these groups—both national and state-level—offer webinars and training sessions that provide valuable information.
    • Be proactive—Don’t wait for other offices to reach out to your career services team. Instead, contact appropriate campus resources—such as an office of diversity and inclusion—so you can participate in meetings, find out what’s going on in other areas of campus working with undocumented students, contribute information, share your challenges, and more. Additionally, it’s beneficial to develop a network of colleagues at other institutions with whom to share information and solutions.
    • Don’t be quick to refer—When working with undocumented students, avoid making immediate referrals to attorneys’ offices or an international student office. Undocumented students don’t view themselves as international students. The message you send by making quick referrals is that you don’t understand undocumented students and may not care to.

    “Also, encourage undocumented students to pursue their passion,” Blesso urges. “Assisting them with their career exploration and job search—and doing that research together—helps build trust and positions your career services office favorably with other undocumented students considering disclosing.”  

    Blesso will present on this topic at the 2018 NACE Conference in New Orleans.