Expanding the Dream: Engaging Immigrant Youth and Adults in Postsecondary and Adult Education

Following the Trump Administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, it has become imperative for federal and state policymakers to ensure the safety, economic security, and wellbeing of all immigrant youth, while building on DACA’s success. This brief, written by Duy Pham and Wendy Cervantes, addresses the need to extend pathways to adult and postsecondary education for undocumented youth—including those who did not qualify for DACA. Improving access to education among traditionally underserved students, particularly immigrant youth, would help the country meet its growing workforce demand and close gaps in college completion.

Dreamers—undocumented immigrant youth who came to the Unites States as children—make up a small share of total immigrants, but they contribute immensely to our nation’s success. Among the 11 million immigrants without legal status, approximately 3.2 million came to the U.S. before turning 18 and have lived in the country for at least four years. For many of these immigrants, the United States is the only country they have ever known. They have grown up as Americans and attended our nation’s schools. However, Dreamers’ lack of legal immigration status has created barriers to postsecondary education and economic mobility. And with the recent termination of DACA, hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries are now once again facing an uncertain future.

Although DACA changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth and their families, an estimated half million Dreamers who were eligible for DACA never applied for it. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Dreamers were barred from DACA protections due to specific age and/or education requirements. Therefore, any legislative solution must encompass the full range of the undocumented youth experience and not be limited to serving only the DACA-eligible population.

This brief provides an overview of the Dreamer population, DACA’s success and challenges, and the various legislative proposals currently in Congress. The brief concludes with recommendations for improving the economic security of immigrant youth and adults through expanded access to adult and postsecondary education.