Challenges Facing Undocumented Students Today

An interview with Israel Cortez, Adolescent Outreach Specialist at the Georgia Department of Education

Q. What are your job responsibilities?

A. I work to develop and provide academic and career counseling opportunities to eligible migrant youth, both in school and out of school. I work to provide guidance to local system administrators, teachers, and counselor staff on setting attainable student achievement objectives and performance criteria which work to promote student retention and graduation.

I also appropriately respond to all direct and indirect requests for program-related support, assistance, or information in a timely and efficient fashion and serve as a liaison between the local system and stakeholder along with the Migrant Education Agency staff and vice-versa. I also work to promote active enrollment in educational support programs.

Q. How do you help undocumented students plan for their future?

A. I meet with all eligible Migrant Education students one-on-one and look at their transcripts. When they need to make up credits I meet with their counselors to look for options such as after school programs, credit recovery programs, or summer school. We research and visit local colleges and technical colleges and then apply to several of them.

Q. How do you help undocumented students choose the college that will best suit them?

A. In Georgia, finding a college that will accept undocumented students is difficult because of the Georgia Immigration and Compliance Act. Prior to this law there were several colleges, universities, and technical colleges that accepted undocumented students or gave presidential waivers. Not all of them did this, but there were several around the state that did so. The Board of Regents (this organization governs the Georgia University System) has recommended that all colleges and universities under their guidance start charging undocumented students out-of-state tuition. There has been some talk to go as far as removing any undocumented student from their institutions. At the moment, we have some institutions that will accept undocumented students but are forced to charge them out-of-state tuition. You can find several articles in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about this hot topic. The technical colleges are staying quiet and are not governed by the Board of Regents; this is one of the avenues that we trying to use for our students.

Q. What types of documents must undocumented students provide in order to ensure admittance into higher education?

A. They have to provide a document that states that the student is in this country legally such as a social security card or a green card.

Q. What testing must undocumented students complete in order to ensure admittance into the higher education system?

A. There are no extra tests undocumented students must complete. I recommend undocumented students take the SAT, ACT, or an institutional test.

Q. Are undocumented students required to maintain a certain grade point average in order to enter into higher education?

A. At this time no, but in order to earn a scholarship they have to. I recommend that they keep up with their grades for that reason.

Q. What types of scholarships, loans, or educational financing is available to undocumented students and how can they obtain this funding?

A. There are only a few scholarships available to undocumented students and they are very competitive. Student loans require legal documents. In south Georgia we have few national banks such as the Bank of America and Wells Fargo that are run by locals that sometimes make it difficult for undocumented students and their families to obtain funding for school.

This has become such an issue that I have started my own foundation called the “Israel Cortez Educational and Emergency Fund” all funded completely from donations. It is hosted by the Harvest of Hope Foundation. You can learn more about it here:

Q. What are the challenges facing undocumented students?

A. Funding is the biggest obstacle; some funding comes from the students, parents, friends, local individuals, or private donors.

Q. What happens if an undocumented student does not have the proper documentation in order to enter into the system of higher education?

A. Some will work and save their money, but with out-of state tuition it is almost impossible. Some (few) earn scholarships such as the “Goizueta foundation scholarship.” In south Georgia, these students go back to the fields or to local employers that do not ask for legal documents. The Georgia Immigration and Compliance Act—which revises provisions relating to the assessment and collection of certain taxes remitted to each county—stopped most of the employers from hiring undocumented workers starting in July 2007.

Q. What are some of the challenges facing undocumented students today?

A. We do not have the time to list all of the issues but here are some: Funding, admission to higher education institutions, and health.

Q. What happens when college applications ask for students’ immigration status? Does it ever keep them from applying?

A. When students get to this question they will get discouraged and sometimes it will stop them from continuing with the application. Others will continue but will leave the question blank, knowing that they probably will not be admitted which happens a lot. Others look for simply look for different institutions to apply to. I encourage students to seek out other institutions.

Q. What can undocumented students do to ensure they receive access to higher education?

A. There is not that much that they can do, but some are persistent.

Q. What can our country do to ensure undocumented students receive access to higher education?

A. It is sad that there thousands of students that go through 12 to 13 years of school in Georgia but have no legal documents—they watch their parents pay taxes, call Georgia their state, are Georgia residents, and do well in school—and so they find that their studies run into a road block after high school. All that these students want is a chance. They understand that the government is not going to give them any financial aid. They simply want colleges to let them study at their institution with in-state tuition. Many students will find a way to fund their higher education; they just need a chance.


This article was written by Hannah Purnell

Hannah Purnell is a staff writer for Hannah writes extensively on the topic of undergraduate studies and the college search process.


  1. alondra lechuga

    i was wondering if there was any way a undocuemented student with a clean credit in the united states is there something we can do to get a visa to go to college or work?

  2. Athens, GA

    Hi Alondra,

    The five schools undocumented students cannot admit to include the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Georgia Health Sciences University and Georgia College & State University. Undocumented immigrants can still be admitted at other public colleges, universities, and all Technical College System of Georgia schools but will be charged a higher tuition rate. I hope that helps.

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