Defining Terminology 

Who are undocumented students? 

Defining the term Undocumented  

Undocumented Status Includes 

AB 540 – In-state tuition (SB 68 and AB 2000) 

DACA – Immigration Policy 

CA Dream Act (AB 130/AB 131) – California Financial Aid

The term “Undocumented” is a critical word to invite students into the space

In order to set the context for this toolkit, and in remaining consistent with previous reports and activities such as Undocumented Student Action Week, the term ‘undocumented’ is used throughout this handbook as an umbrella term for the CCC system. Authors of the 2019 Dreamers Project Report acknowledge keeping ‘dreamers’ in the report title due to the original philanthropic grant that funded it, yet in the report introduction make clear, “to be as inclusive as possible, the term undocumented students will be used in lieu of Dreamers throughout this report.” By definition, this term is the most inclusive to identify students we serve, including DACA and TPS recipients, Refugees, Asylum seekers, TVisa, U-Visa, VAWA students and other immigration status. The use of the term undocumented is also advised by the CCC Undocumented Student Advisory Committee, UndocuLiaision Network, and the “Understanding the Undocumented Community” Survey.  However, we understand and acknowledge that not every student wants to be identified as undocumented or is comfortable walking into an undocumented student center. Following is additional historical context about terminology. Ultimately, we encourage you to continue asking and surveying your students about the terminology they prefer. 

The term “Dreamer” is widely used in legislation, the media and education to refer to undocumented youth.  The book “We Are Not Dreamers”: Undocumented Scholars Theorize Undocumented Life in the Unites States. co-edited by Leisy J. Abrego and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales highlights that  “Allies—nonprofit leaders and educators— began using this powerful narrative to advocate for the educational rights of these promising students and increasingly, many undocumented students took up these narratives to make a strategic and compelling appeal for their rights (Abrams 2014; Nicholls 2013). This came to be known as the “dreamer narrative” because it argues for citizenship for those who stood to benefit from the federal Dream Act were it ever to pass—undocumented, but young and educated.” The new generation of undocumented students may no longer identify as Dreamers. The term Dreamer often embraces a good immigrant versus bad immigrant narrative in the undocumented communities. Dreamer is considered a good young immigrant trying to obtain a college degree and be successful, while the bad immigrant narrative is used to describe the parents of the dreamers who came to the country without immigration inspection. Lastly, the term Dreamers developed from the acronym for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act (S.1291) legislation that was introduced in 2001 as a bipartisan bill in the Senate. The legislative goal was to provide a means for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to gain a pathway to permanent legal status, provided those individuals achieved certain milestones. The legislation never passed and the use of its name perpetuates unfriendly terminology (“alien”) that we wish not to continue using in our system. It is important to understand that college students over the years have participated in “coming out of the shadows” events and outed themselves publicly on their college campuses as a way to bring about humanizing the undocumented movement in higher education. Abrego and Negrón-Gonzales also argued that while well-intentioned, strategic tactic to garner political support of undocumented youth, the Dreamer narrative has promoted the idea that access to citizenship and rights should be granted only to a select group of ‘deserving’ immigrants. “However, in some instances, undocumented people may subscribe to this identity because it provides economic mobility and allows for political claims.” The Dreamer narrative also excludes subgroups of the undocumented communities, such as academically struggling students, transgender activists, and queer undocumented parents, TPS recipients, T Visas, U-Visa recipients and other statuses.

On the other hand, the terms DACAmented and AB 540 are also not inclusive terminology as they are only relevant to a small sub-section of the undocumented community.  Be mindful that every year we will continue to see a decrease in the applicants that could qualify for the DACA program. Even if the DACA program was to go away, this program is unrelated to education in CA.
Continuing our conversations around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion across the system, we highly encourage educators to be mindful of words that have negative connotations for students, such as “illegal” and “alien” when referring to undocumented individuals. As the journalist, Jose Antonio Vargas stated in the Times article titled Immigration Debate: The Problem with the Word Illegal, “Describing an immigrant as illegal is legally inaccurate. Being in the U.S. without proper documents is a civil offense, not a criminal one. (Underscoring this reality, Justice Anthony Kennedywrote for the majority opinion on SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration law: “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a movable alien to remain in the United States.”) In a country that believes in due process of the law, calling an immigrant illegal is akin to calling a defendant awaiting trial a criminal. The term illegal is also imprecise.” Again, we encourage practitioners to strive for inclusive terminology by asking and surveying your students about the terminology they prefer.

How do students identify? 

UC Davis, Undocumented Student and AB540 Center, Andrea Gaytan, Marcus Tang


In order to continue unifying the language, we are also using the terminology of UndocuLiaisons (referred to as “Dreamer Resource Liaisons” in AB 1645) for the educators that will serve as the primary point of contact for the Chancellor’s Office and the FoundationCCC when new guidance is issued around undocumented student efforts. As stated in the bill, the UndocuLiaison is the Undocumented Student Center Coordinator or Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) representative knowledgeable in social services, immigration legal services, academic counseling, peer support services, psychological counseling, and academic opportunities. In addition, the legislation suggests the UndocuLiaison also have knowledge in Financial Aid, internships, externships, emergency grants, scholarships and other Financial Aid needs. UndocuLiaisons are expected be responsible for coordinating and sharing information with their campus Undocumented Student Taskforce or need-to-know representatives. The UndocuLiaison is expected to have regular attendance and active participation in UndocuLiaison Regional calls (Financial Aid UndocuLiaisons and administrators may choose to also participate in the calls). UndocuLiaisons are encouraged to stay up-to-date on legislation, training, and undocumented student efforts on a statewide level to connect students to current resources and information. Once again, colleges may have different titles for the UndocuLiaison on their campus (Coordinator, Director, Specialist, Consultant, etc.); however, we will use the term UndocuLiaison as an umbrella term.  UndocuLiaison Chapter – Coming Soo