Honors Theses

The Next Step: Reframing the Vulnerability and Difficulties of Undocumented Students Through Higher Education Milestones

Author Full Name
Ximena Sanchez Martinez

Faculty Advisor: 

Tomás R. Jiménez

Professor, Sociology and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity 

Director, Undergraduate Program on Urban Studies 

Secondary Reader:

Jonathan Rosa

Associate Professor, Graduate School of Education

Director, Undergraduate Program on Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies 


Over the last decade, undocumented students have been given access to the American dream of pursuing higher education which opens the doors to economic and social mobility. While undocumented students can pursue higher education, they can only achieve half the dream. The existence of education access policies is not enough for these students to access the benefits of higher education. This project seeks to understand the experiences of undocumented students as they pursue higher education with the existence of the following education access policies: Assembly Bill 540 and the California Dream Act. These two laws open the doors to higher education for undocumented students in California by providing access to in-state tuition and state financial aid, respectively. Through this project, I sought to learn what barriers these policies fail to address and how the experience of undocumented students differs with DACA and no DACA. My thesis will center on three higher education milestones: high school to college, navigating undergrad, and post-college graduation. I structured my interview guide around these three milestones to understand how my participants experienced these transitions. In the 11 interviews I conducted, I found themes of self-advocacy, exclusion from the typical college experience, the necessity of high levels of resilience, and differences in how both groups of students (DACA and no DACA) experience the transition post-college graduation. Undocumented students must achieve high levels of resilience and self-advocacy to persevere through the barriers they face pursuing higher education. I argue that pursuing higher education provides undocumented students without DACA protection from the limitations of their immigration status while DACA students are able to access the benefits of higher education. Lastly, I conclude that the existence of education access policies is not sufficient to support the journey of undocumented students pursuing higher education.

View final Honors Thesis here.