Why undocumented college students are so stressed out

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A new study confirms what undocumented college students have known for ages.

They're stressed out. Big time.

According to a report released Monday by UCLA, more than a quarter of undocumented male students and more than a third of undocumented female students said they were moderately or severely anxious.


Just four percent of men and nine percent of women in the general population say the same.

A mix of financial worries, brought on by a lack of access to federal student loans or grants, fear of deportation and feelings of isolation are causing the stress.

"It's a huge problem," Monica Reyes, an undocumented senior at the University of Northern Iowa who took the survey, told Fusion.

Reyes, 24, has spent seven years balancing multiple jobs with school work and family obligations. Her mother does not drive and she is responsible for shepherding siblings around, which has left little time for homework and none for the extracurriculars she enjoyed during high school.

Deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA), temporary deportation relief, has provided some respite for Reyes, along with the other survey participants.

According to the study, DACA, which comes with a temporary work permit, has helped students find jobs and internships, driver's licenses, even housing.


As one California student who was surveyed said:

"DACA changed my life completely. Before DACA, I could not obtain any internship because I was always asked for a work permit and a social security number. As soon as I received DACA, I was accepted as an engineering intern at a biotech company where I developed my professional and academic skills. This made the training and education I was receiving in my classes much more relevant… And I didn’t have to worry about finding a job after school since the company I interned for offered me a full-time position as a mechanical engineer” [Male from California attending a 4-year public college]."


The job component is critical, because undocumented students cannot access federal aid. And fewer than half of all states allow them to pay in-state tuition, even if they've been living there for years.

The numbers back up the fact that being an undocumented student is hard work. While 25 to 30 percent of all 16 to 24-year-olds go to college, just 10 percent of undocumented immigrants in the same age range enroll.


But students with DACA still had relatively high levels of anxiety, the study noted, because they often felt guilty and worried that friends or family would be deported while they would be allowed to remain.

And the nation's estimated quarter of a million undocumented college students have few places to turn because they're not sure who to trust, which leaves them suffering their anxiety in silence. When they do reveal their status, reaction is often negative. According to the study, undocumented students reported high levels of unfair and negative treatment from other students faculty, even counselors and campus police.


The study suggests that the government reconsider financial aid eligibility, but that's unlikely to happen anytime soon, with Republicans controlling Congress.

Another suggestion that is more plausible is having colleges create safe spaces and support groups for undocumented students. Right now, the study says, schools aren't doing enough to acknowledge or help them. Nearly two-thirds of the undocumented students who attend  schools that offer such resources said they used them, suggesting any effort required to offer support wouldn't be in vain.


Reyes, the University of Northern Iowa senior, said she has had little success finding assistance or support at her school, and thinks it would ease anxiety levels among undocumented students.

"I really do wish more schools made their stance clear," she said, "and were more inviting."


Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.