New Data: More Than 600,000 Undocumented K-12 Students Need a Pathway to Citizenship

WASHINGTON, DC – released new data today showing that approximately 620,000 K-12 students are undocumented, and need the stability and certainty that only a pathway to citizenship can provide; the current reconciliation bill would do so, and Congress should pass it right away. The majority of K-12 students are ineligible to request Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections, so Congress must take action.’ new data also shows that an estimated 4.5 million students with undocumented parents will study in K-12 schools this year, meaning 8% of all K-12 students are at risk of having their families torn apart by deportation, devastating students and families, as well as their broader communities, unless Congress passes a pathway to citizenship.

At least 620,000 K-12 students in the United States are undocumented, and we estimate that least 100,000 of these undocumented students are waiting for a decision on their asylum application. These undocumented students came to the U.S. as children and have built their young lives here – while they are part of the Dreamer population, nearly 9 in 10 of them do not qualify for DACA, and do not have a clear path without urgent action from Congress.’ analysis also finds that most states have at least 1,000 undocumented students in their K-12 schools. This number is significantly higher in several states, with some of the highest undocumented student populations living in Texas (111,000), Florida (74,000), and California (72,000). Unfortunately, the majority of undocumented K-12 students in the 2021-2022 school year are too young to request DACA, as it has a minimum age requirement of 15 years old. Additionally, the overwhelming majority (at least 88%) of K-12 students who are currently undocumented arrived in the U.S. after 2007, the latest year that individuals must have been living in the United States in order to be eligible for DACA protections.

U.S. District Judge Hanen’s recent decision on DACA now means that first-time requests from undocumented students can no longer be processed, even if they are eligible for DACA. This means that more than 50,000 undocumented high school seniors this year will be unable to request DACA, a crucial time in which they are preparing for college and career opportunities. All told, nearly 550,000 K-12 undocumented students would never be eligible to request DACA under current rules. These students would be forced to remain undocumented, putting themselves and their families at extraordinary risk.

“Hundreds of thousands of undocumented K-12 students heading back to the classroom this fall will bear the enormous burden of uncertainty about their future in this country, and anxiety over whether they can continue building their lives here and staying safe and together with their families,” said Phillip Connor, Senior Demographer. “America’s students and schools need a long-term solution – Congress must pass a pathway to citizenship for these students and their families without further delay.”

Research shows that having a lawful presence like DACA, allows undocumented students to make substantial educational gains. Undocumented students barred from receiving DACA, particularly those in high school, will face barriers many of their peers do not, including the inability in many states to obtain a driver’s license. They may also be ineligible for part-time jobs or to qualify for in-state tuition rates, even if they have lived there for years. These and other stressors can affect students’ mental health and, ultimately, their educational success.

Beyond undocumented students, schools also interact daily with more than 3.9 million K-12 U.S. citizen students with undocumented parents. In total, about 8% – or roughly 4.5 million of all K-12 students of all statuses – have an undocumented parent, with even higher shares in Texas (15%), Nevada (15%), California (12%), and New Jersey (11%).

Congress must act to ensure that these hundreds of thousands of undocumented students are able to stay with their families, earn an education, and participate fully in their communities. This means creating a pathway to citizenship for these undocumented students.

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