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Celebrating inclusion: Augsburg continues to remove barriers for undocumented students

They are future doctors, engineers, psychologists, and educators. They work—often two jobs—to pay for school. They participate in clubs and make lasting friendships, just like their peers.

The difference?

They are among the nation’s 6,500 undocumented students—children born abroad who are not U.S. citizens or legal residents. In their lives, most every interaction, application, and career aspiration often involves some level of fear and uncertainty.

For these students—eager for higher education—Augsburg, with its commitment to intentional diversity, has become a refuge. Since 2007, the college has worked with and for undocumented students, inviting them to apply and supporting them throughout their time on campus and beyond. Dulce Monterrubio, director of Latin@ Student Services, said the campus continues to bolster its financial assistance and support of the undocumented population, currently more than 50 students.

“These are some of the most hard-working students I’ve ever met, and they are navigating college without any access to federal assistance and often with significant stress about their future and their family,” said Monterrubio, who has served as director since 2014. “It’s been inspiring to see this campus come together … helping [these students] achieve their dreams and contribute to society.”

Augsburg has experienced an increase in its undocumented population since 2012, when the federal government announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary relief from deportation for eligible undocumented young adults, as well as renewable two-year work permits. In November 2015, President Barack Obama announced an expansion of the DACA program to cover older undocumented people who did not meet the 2012 age restriction and cut-off date.

Increasing aid and support

Monterrubio said admission to Augsburg is based solely on academic achievement and potential, so undocumented students do not receive any special treatment. And although these students are not eligible for federal financial aid, they are eligible for in-state tuition rates through the MN Dream Act, passed in 2013. Augsburg also provides financial assistance to incoming first-year and transfer undocumented students pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

“We’ve had students who didn’t know they were undocumented until they started applying for college because their parents were scared or wanted to protect them,” said Monterrubio, who has been at Augsburg since coming to campus from Mexico as an international student in 2000. “Imagine adding that stress on top of an already stressful time of applying for and transitioning to college. But many of them are surprisingly resilient and starting to feel more comfortable to advocate for themselves and educate our campus and community.”

Educating allies on campus

In spring 2016, students will partner with Latin@ Student Services to offer an ally training program to continue to build a network of understanding and support among faculty, staff, and students. Monterrubio said many faculty members, in particular, have expressed interest in learning more about the issue and services available to undocumented students.

The campus has also pledged to participate on April 7, 2016, in National Institutions Coming Out Day, which celebrates undocu-friendly campuses. This community of universities shares best practices to help reduce barriers for these students.

“Augsburg has been on the forefront of this movement to recognize and celebrate the positive impact these students, given the chance, have on our society,” Monterrubio said. “We look forward to continuing to help undocumented students get the most out of their college experience.”

Dimension 2, Goal 4, Strategy 4: Increase our effectiveness in diversity and inclusion across all programs.

—By Kate Elliott