In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Undocumented Student Resource Centers
  • Jesus Cisneros (bio) and Alonso R. Reyna Rivarola (bio)

Over the last decade, institutions of higher education have begun to respond to the plight and mobilization of undocumented students by institutionalizing undocumented student support services. Undocumented student resource centers (USRCs) are a product of such efforts. USRCs are physical spaces on higher education campuses where centralized services and resources for undocumented students are provided. USRC staff strive to create welcoming and supportive studentcentered environments that enhance students' experiences, nurture civic and community engagement, and promote their mental health and well-being (Canedo Sanchez & So, 2015). Further, they seek to actively address exclusionary institutional policies and historical service gaps in higher education, a system that was created without critical consideration of undocumented students and students from families with mixed immigration statuses.

With support from the UndocuScholars Project at UCLA, scholars conducted a nationwide, in-depth investigation of USRCs (Cisneros & Valdivia, 2020). At the time of the study, 59 USRCs were identified—most of which were located in California; other USRCs were located in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington. Thirty were at 4-year institutions, while the remaining 29 were at 2-year colleges; only 1 USRC was at a private institution. We used interview data from 49 USRCs to highlight trends and best practices in undocumented student support services. Our goal was to spotlight the viability of USRCs as a necessary functional area in higher education and student affairs practice for serving and supporting undocumented students.


Empirical studies consistently highlight how undocumented students experience eminent racism and discrimination from faculty, staff, and peers, as well as from exclusionary higher education policies and practices (Teranishi, Suárez-Orozco, & Suárez-Orozco, 2015). Historically, leaders in higher education have not considered the particular needs of undocumented students nor cogitated "how racism, poverty, substandard schooling, and diverse labor contexts" shape the experiences of undocumented students on campus (Gilder-sleeve & Ranero, 2010, p. 23). A complex web of federal, state, and institutional policies implicates undocumented students and disparately impacts their educational outcomes (Nienhusser, 2018). Across different states, for example, undocumented students are systematically denied admission into public higher education, access to in-state tuition rates, and eligibility for state-based financial aid (Flores, 2010). For undocumented students, it is challenging to find and take advantage of available resources when they occur sporadically, are dependent on the personal commitment of institutional agents, and are found only in isolated pockets of a campus (Southern, 2016). Additionally, due to fears of rejection, discrimination, detention, and [End Page 658] deportation, those who do make it into higher education are often unaware of support systems and resources available to them (Muñoz, 2016).


As a part of institutional strategies to embed support structures for undocumented students in higher education, USRCs help streamline resources and institutional responses to sociopolitical changes affecting undocumented students. They emerged in response to campus mobilizations by and on behalf of undocumented students. As reported by Cisneros and Valdivia (2020), USRCs vary by context and reflect their respective institutional capacity, resources, population size, and organizational structures. For example, while most USRCs operate as standalone centers with specialized staff, others have been merged with multicultural or international student centers and use existing staff as de facto undocumented student specialists. Similarly, most USRCs operate under the leadership of one full-time coordinator, program manager, or director, while others employ one or two part-time positions to fulfill similar responsibilities. To increase capacity, student staff or interns are employed at some USRCs, while institutional taskforces, advisory boards, and student organizations provide personnel at others. In this way, USRC practitioners create and sustain extensive campus referral networks and provide customized support via partnerships on campus and in the local community. Socially embedded, mutually beneficial partnerships help expand and streamline the availability of resources and students' connections to opportunities. Given the breadth of partnerships, it is not uncommon for counselors, academic advisors, financial aid officers, attorneys, and others to hold regularly scheduled office hours at USRCs. The Appendix describes customized resources and services typically provided by USRCs.

USRCs offer such support structures not only...


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pp. 658-662
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