Scholar Hopes to Diversify the Narrative Around Undocumented Students


When Felecia Russell was a high school student growing up near Los Angeles, she was getting good grades and plenty of encouragement to go to college.

But when it came time to do the paperwork of applying to a campus and financial aid, Russell asked her mom for her social security number.

“My mom was like, ‘yeah, you don’t have one,’” she remembers.

Russell didn’t have a social security number because she didn’t have permanent legal status in the U.S. She was “undocumented.” She had moved to the U.S. from Jamaica when she was about 12. But she hadn’t fully understood until that moment, as she Googled for more details, how her immigration status could dash her dreams.

“All I saw online was ‘illegal, illegal, illegal,’” she remembers. And everything online seemed to tell her “that means you can’t go to college.”

On this week’s EdSurge Podcast, we tell the story of Russell’s fight to get her college degree, and how she has become an advocate for other undocumented students. (She went on to get her PhD and is now an adjunct professor at California Lutheran University.)

Her biggest message is that even when colleges do work to help students who lack permanent legal status, they often aren’t paying attention to Black undocumented students, because the majority of services in this space are designed for Latino students.

“Some of it makes sense,” she says, “because the Latinx population is two-thirds of the undocumented population, so it makes sense that everything is centered around their experience.”

Yet the undocumented population in the U.S. is 6 percent Black, she says, and a sizable share of the 408,000 undocumented students in colleges are Black. Data from the Higher Ed Immigration Portal from the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, which Russell directs, shows that as of 2023, 46 percent of undocumented students at college were Hispanic, while 27 percent were Asian, 14 percent were Black and 10 percent were white. Some people identify as both Black and Latino, and commonly describe themselves as Afro Latino.

“And so it’s so dangerous, because now we’re forcing these people back into the shadows,” says Russell, who became a DACA recipient but as a student often didn’t feel welcome in support groups for undocumented students. “Now they don’t have a space to belong.”

Russell shares her story in a new book out this month, called “Amplifying Black Undocumented Student Voices in Higher Education.

The book also includes deep research on the topic, based on extensive interviews she did with 15 Black undocumented college students. And she has recommendations for school and college leaders on how to better support the full spectrum of students facing immigration issues.

Hear the full story on this week’s episode. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts, or use the player on this page.


Source link

Edu Expertise Hub