Better Resources for NGOs Serving Undocumented Students

By Jeff Simon

I am a former Program Manager at iMentor, an organization providing high school students with the resources and mentorship guidance to prepare for post-secondary pathways. I am now a law student and planning to practice nonprofit immigration law and advocate for more humane immigration policies in the US.

Resource sharing, in general:

At iMentor, I noticed that very often, somebody would share a cool resource, or a Program Manager would share a resource with volunteer mentors, and just say something like “This looks like it could be useful!” We get virtually nothing out of resources when we share them like this. If a resource is worth sharing, service providers need to take the extra step of making it easy for the volunteer to use the resource. For organizations working with students, this means providing information like, for example, is the program still open? Is there an upcoming deadline? Are all students eligible? Does the application link work? Does the student have to get a recommendation? If we don’t look into this, we might just get students excited about something that they can’t even apply for because the application is closed or they’re ineligible. 

Service providers need time to promote these programs and give students time to complete applications as well, or do targeted outreach by discussing resources with specific students who might be interested in those resources. 

As direct service providers, we do way too much sharing with no substance.

Another aspect of this problem is that the resources shared in this way are often lost forever after they’re shared. That program/resource shared is possible institutional knowledge that could benefit future students. Organizations need to have a point person (or intern) who organizes and updates this information constantly. This is ideal work for an undergraduate or high school intern.

Thinking about undocumented young people:

For service providers that work with young people in big cities especially, but really everyone, they should really be aware that undocumented young people are out there and that they may hear the messages we send differently. We need to make intentional efforts to let students know they can come to us for help. It’s really scary for kids to share their status with adults they don’t know well. So we need to put resources out there for them and offer to connect them and support them without directly asking students about their status (this is barred in many urban school districts anyway). 

Folks who work with these students should know that many of them may be eligible for legal status and a path to citizenship under certain conditions:

  • U visa: the student and/or his/her parent was a victim of a crime in the US and cooperated with law enforcement in investigation of the crime
  • T visa: the student and/or his/her parent was a victim of trafficking
  • Asylum: the family fled persecution on account of race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or membership in a particular group (ex. LGBTQ)
  • Special Immigrant Juvenile Status: the student is under 21 and was abused, abandoned or neglected by his/her family. 
  • Violence Against Women Act self-petition: the student’s parent was dependent on his/her US citizen or permanent resident spouse for legal status, but the citizen/resident spouse is abusive and wielding legal status as a weapon to justify control and further abuse.

These are complicated legal issues. I’m not a lawyer yet, but I know lots of attorneys who work on cases like these all the time and I’m happy to make connections. Many of these pathways to citizenship have time limits, so it’s important to act upon knowing that a student might be eligible ASAP!

Find a resource guide for undocumented students here!

Jeff Simon (he/him/his) is a JD/MPA candidate at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Princeton University School of Public and International Affairs. He spent seven years working as a high school teacher and college adviser prior to going back to school and is passionate about the intersection of immigration, access to higher education, and reducing barriers to opportunity. He is now based in Philadelphia, PA.

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