Student Publication

Undocumented at Cal

Is UC Berkeley Failing to Support Undocumented STEM Students?

Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants are currently enrolled in U.S colleges and universities. According to a 2018 U.S Census Bureau Survey, there are approximately 454,000 undocumented college students, of which less than half are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program which grants temporary permission to stay in the United States to certain undocumented youth who came to the country as children.

Scholars of immigration have written extensively on the undocumented experience, and have illustrated the ways in which undocumented college students encounter barriers navigating higher education. Largely absent from existing research, however, is a focus on undocumented students in STEM. While there is no data on the number of undocumented STEM students at UC Berkeley or in the University of California system, there is reason to believe those numbers are significant. A 2015 study conducted by UCLA reveals that more than 28% of the 900 undocumented students interviewed nationwide were majoring in a STEM field.

In the spring of 2019, the Undocumented Research Cohort (URC) set out to study the experiences of undocumented students at UC Berkeley. Too often, researchers on immigration are not undocumented themselves, so while we are often the object and focus of research, rarely are we allowed to write about our own experiences. The URC was designed to allow undocumented students to control the narrative, while also providing a paid research opportunity— research by undocumented students, about undocumented students, and for undocumented students.

We began by surveying the resources available to undocumented students on campus, such as fellowship and research opportunities, scholarships, academic advising, basic needs, and legal aid. Next, we conducted in-depth interviews with 25 undocumented students from different majors and with varying legal statuses: Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, DACA holders, non-DACA. These qualitative interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. In this report, we focus specifically on the experiences of the ten students who stated that they are pursuing a degree in a STEM field. Of these ten interviewees, six have DACA, four are non-DACA, and three of the ten interviewees are transfer students.

To view this brief and others in the series, visit