DACA-Mexico Origin Students in the United States-Mexican Borderlands: Persistence, Belonging, and College Climate

DACA-Mexico Origin Students in the United States-Mexican Borderlands: Persistence, Belonging, and College Climate

Maggie Dominguez, Miriam L. Frolow
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2783-2.ch002
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The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program enabled more than 700,000 undocumented youth and young adults since 2012 the chance to have a lawful presence in the United States for a 2-year renewable period. With DACA status, college students could have access to financial aid and possibly in-state tuition, as well as opportunities to work legally. A correlational study was conducted in 2016-2017 with 30 DACA college students of Mexican Origin who were residing in California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. They completed an anonymous online survey about their intent to persist to degree completion, their views on the college climate for diversity, and their sense of belonging on campus. The results of the study confirm the need for higher education faculty and staff to provide services and resources and to build trust with this vulnerable student population.
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Undocumented immigrants in the United States have been consistently brought into the ongoing anti-immigration debates at all levels of government, in the courts, media, and society, and on college campuses for the past few decades. The high points included the United States Supreme Court decisions in favor of undocumented immigrants receiving a public school education, California and Texas providing in-state tuition benefits for colleges and universities to undocumented students, and the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The low points came when the media portrayed them as “illegal” and therefore unworthy of government or societal support and the DACA program was halted. In between these events, the voices of young adults started to be heard as undocumented and DACA individuals told their stories, while advocating for the ability to follow the American dream of continuing to be a contributing member of society.

Anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States heightened in 2017 when President Donald Trump decided to rescind the DACA program that President Barak Obama introduced as executive order in 2012 (Beckwith, 2017; Muñoz, 2019). This decision continues to have a profound influence on the undocumented and DACA college student population on campuses nationwide. Luna and Ireland (2019) state, “The Trump era is marked by fear, uncertainty, and perpetual limbo as the topic of immigration reform is batted between the executive office, Congress, and judicial rulings, no closer to a clear direction” (p.196). This current political climate with anti-immigrant rhetoric has jeopardized the mental health and safety of undocumented students with DACA status (Muñoz, Vigil, Jach, & Rodriguez-Gutierrez, 2018). At the same time, this vulnerable population has begun to find advocates and support networks in the form of faculty, staff, and student organizations aimed at counteracting the negativity that undocumented and DACA students encounter.

Historical and current problems that undocumented students face in the United States are access to higher education, difficulty persisting to degree completion, and the misfortune of dealing with social stigmas and social exclusion (Gildersleeve & Ranero, 2010; Lopez & Lopez, 2010; Muñoz et al., 2018; Pérez, 2012; Pérez & Cortés, 2011). This population includes young adults and college students who continue to have a temporary status that prevents them from being deported through the DACA program, even though the program has been halted and debated at all levels of government, as well as by the media and in court. More than 90 college and university presidents signed a petition in 2016 to continue and expand the DACA program in an effort to increase their support for their DACA students (Muñoz, 2019; Redden, 2016). This public support gave others in higher education the courage to find ways to be proactive in providing a safe and welcoming environment for this vulnerable student population.

In the authors’ 2016-2017 study, DACA college students of Mexican origin (D-MO) who live in the Borderland States of California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico anonymously completed an online study that provided an opportunity to create a demographic profile of this emerging student population and to explore more about their intent to persist to degree completion. Studying persistence allowed for concentration on the behavior and attributes of students who are already successfully overcoming existing barriers (Rigali-Oiler & Kurpius, 2013; Wintre & Bowers, 2007). With an understanding of the barriers that DACA-Mexico Origin (D-MO) students face and how these students can overcome those barriers, higher education administrators and faculty may be able to propose and implement appropriate and effective solutions to increase persistence rates and make a college education accessible to this marginalized group.

Key Terms in this Chapter

College Climate: A term often used in this study is college climate. This study refers to college climate as the students’ experiences and interactions with peers, which can include harassment and discrimination to develop an understanding of how D-MO students experience the university or college environment (Yeung & Johnston, 2014).

Mexican Citizens and Mexican Immigrants: For this study, the initial adult family members who came to the United States are referred to as “Mexican Citizens,” unless the family members are in the United States legally. Those who are in the United States legally with proper and current documentation are referred to as “Mexican Immigrants.”

DACA-Mexico Origin (D-MO) Students: The sample in this study included students with approved DACA statuses who arrived from Mexico (D-MO) and currently enrolled in public 2- or 4-year higher education institutions.

Sense of Belonging: As defined by the researcher, a sense of belonging refers to the notion of how D-MO students integrate into the college and university atmosphere given the campus climate about race, ethnicity, religion, and other environmental influences.

Persistence: For this study, persistence is defined as the ability of a student to remain in full- or part-time status at a higher education institution (Tinto, 2012). Persistence is related to retention but different in the way that persistence focuses on why students stay in school (Tinto, 2012). Intent to persist to degree completion in this study is referred to as the dependent variable. Intent takes into consideration how the student feels about his or her desire and ability to complete the degree program.

Social Stigma: When a stranger is introduced, these attributes become expectations and demands that subconsciously lead to assumptions regarding how the society feels the stranger should be or act. If the stranger behaves differently or exhibits attributes that are undesirable in the extreme sense, then the society perceives the individual as threatening, inferior, or bad ( Goffman, 1963 ). These types of discrediting attributes are called stigmas.

Undocumented and DACA Students: The term undocumented students refer to children who were brought to the United States by undocumented parents without the proper documentation ( Castro-Salazar and Bagley, 2012 ; Ritz, 2011 ). Prior to 2012, none of the undocumented students had an opportunity to obtain legal documents, such as a social security card or driver’s license ( Pérez, 2012 ; Pérez & Cortés, 2011 ); however, with DACA approval, undocumented students can attain lawful presence in the United States and have documentation (USCIS, 2014). For this reason, this study refers to these students as DACA students.

Immigrant: The term “immigrant” for the context of this study is one who has legal authorization to be in the United States ( Ritz, 2011 ). In general, immigrants are not citizens of the country, but immigrants are lawfully admitted to staying in the United States ( Castro-Salazar & Bagley, 2012 ; Lopez & Lopez, 2010 ). Often undocumented and DACA students are grouped with immigrants through the term “illegal immigrants,” which creates confusion and stereotyping ( Gildersleeve et al., 2010 ; Lopez & Lopez, 2010 ; Pérez, 2012 ).

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