Essential California: Helping immigrant students at state colleges


Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Oct. 22. I’m Metro reporter Robert J. Lopez, filling in for Justin Ray.

Community college students across California and their supporters are taking part in the fifth annual “Undocumented Student Action Week,” which began Monday.

For the record:

9:48 a.m. Oct. 25, 2021An earlier version of this newsletter misspelled musician Ritchie Valens’ first name as Richie.

The event features webinars, advocacy sessions and other activities to underscore the importance of supporting students who came here without visas or paperwork that allowed them to stay in the U.S. legally.

I was a senior administrator at Cal State L.A. for several years and witnessed the benefits of providing resources to help such students earn a degree.


The Campaign for College Opportunity says that about 75,000 students without legal status are enrolled in public colleges and universities in California. Research has show that helping these students succeed supports the state’s economy and provides educational opportunities that are equitable and inclusive.

Undocumented Student Action Week kicked off with a webinar featuring acting California Community College Chancellor Daisy Gonzalez, California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro, UC President Michael V. Drake and Kristen F. Soares, president of the Assn. of Independent California Colleges and Universities.

They discussed a range of topics, including their efforts to support students in the 20 years since the passage of California’s AB 540. The landmark legislation opened the door to higher education for a generation of students who came to the U.S. without visas or paperwork by allowing them to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.

The webinar was moderated by Linda Vasquez, an immigrant and first-generation college student who is now the assistant vice chancellor for state and federal relations for the California Community College system.

I asked Vasquez to discuss the difficulties encountered by college students who came without visas or paperwork and how the efforts to help them have been affected during the COVID-19 era.

What are the biggest challenges that students in California who came here without visas or other paperwork face in seeking a college or university degree?


Undocumented students face a number of challenges as they try to navigate higher education, not the least of which is uncertainty around national immigration policy that pose very real sources of anxiety and make focusing on education difficult. Another major challenge is accessing the financial aid they need to pay for college. While undocumented students are eligible for state financial aid, they cannot access the federal Pell Grant, which provides eligible students with thousands of dollars in financial aid to cover non-tuition related costs. The burden of these non-tuition related costs often forces students to put their studies on hold.

How has the pandemic affected enrollment and retention of college students who came here without visas or paperwork?

Across the board, our enrollment numbers have declined during the pandemic. Those of us in higher education are not surprised. Before the pandemic, enrollment was already declining for a number of reasons. Undocumented students face poverty, uncertainty, racism and restrictions on access to federal student aid and, in certain cases, employment. Fifty percent of our students were food insecure, 60% housing insecure and 19% homeless. These are challenges our undocumented students face every day. The Student Senate for California Community Colleges conducted a survey and identified loss of household income, technology divides and access to mental health services as significant challenges for our students during the pandemic.

California is home to an estimated 2.5 million undocumented immigrants. Undocumented students enrolled at our colleges are aspiring teachers, medical professionals, community leaders and entrepreneurs. Protecting and supporting our undocumented students is not only is the right thing to do, it is the economically wise thing to do. They will fuel our state’s workforce and make significant contributions in helping our nation recover from this pandemic.

Based on your experience as an immigrant and first-generation college student, what advice would you give to higher education administrators to help improve retention and graduation rates of students who came here without visas or paperwork?

Above all, empathy and understanding is important. As mentioned previously, our students are facing far greater challenges than worrying about a final or an exam. In addition to being students, they are parents, they are working multiple jobs and/or they may be food or home insecure.


Fundamentally, if we want to support the success of undocumented students, everyone on campus has to have basic information on what undocumented students are eligible for and who they need to be referred for their specific questions. This means fostering greater cross-divisional collaboration and communication so that students don’t have to speak to five different departments to get an answer to their questions.

The California Community Colleges system offers numerous services to our undocumented students, including those who are protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. All of our colleges have UndocuLiaisons and many have opened resource centers that provide a safe and welcoming environment where undocumented students can get one-on-one help connecting to resources, including state and institutional financial aid, referrals to legal services, counseling and much more.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

A new state regulation will create buffer zones to protect communities from new oil and gas wells. The administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday took the first step to ban new oil and gas wells near homes, schools and healthcare facilities. The new restrictions, which would create 3,200-foot buffer zones and require emissions monitoring of existing wells, are expected to go into effect in 2023. The move was urged by environmental advocates who say that toxins, hazards and odors from the drilling sites have disproportionately affected Black and Latino communities. Los Angeles Times

As drought grips California, a “bomb cyclone” is predicted to bring heavy rain to northern parts of the state. During the next several days, weather forecasters are warning of possible flash flooding and rainfall that could last through Monday as a “bomb cyclone” system sends a front toward Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. The National Weather Service has issued several flash flood advisories, including some areas scarred by huge wildfires. The Sacramento Bee


A major earthquake would knock out critical communication systems for days or weeks, new study concludes. A landmark new analysis by the U.S. Geological Survey paints a dire picture of widespread disruption that would imperial public access to 911 dispatchers and disrupt emergency responses in the wake of a major quake. The findings of the voluminous report were unveiled Thursday at a news conference that followed the state’s annual Shake Out drill, in which people are asked to drop, cover and hold on as they should during a real earthquake. Los Angeles Times


Dodger blues as a teachable moment for children. During the Dodgers’ six decades in L.A., there have been incredible victories filled with jubilation and joy as well as devastating losses punctuated by frustration and failure. The team’s playoff battles this month against the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves have been no exception. Parents who watch the games with their children can use the contests to spark conversations about frustration, anger and — hopefully — happiness. LAist

Rocking and rolling on the Eastside of L.A. A new generation of Mexican American rock ‘n’ roll artists is making a mark. Their work is built on the shoulders of pioneers who blazed a musical trail, often overcoming barriers. They include Ritchie Valens, Los Lobos, Alice Bag and El Chicano, to name a few who helped create what is known as the “Eastside Sound.” L.A. Taco

Our daily news podcast

If you’re a fan of this newsletter, you’ll probably love our new daily podcast, “The Times,” hosted by columnist Gustavo Arellano, along with reporters from across our newsroom. Every weekday, it takes you beyond the headlines. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts and follow on Spotify.


California test run of “return free” tax filing system was stymied by tax software firms. State officials conducted a trial run of the system to help taxpayers with modest incomes avoid the frustrations associated with filing taxes. But tax-filing firms waged a relentless campaign and persuaded the Internal Revenue Service not to adopt California’s innovative approach. Now, the state’s novel effort is getting a new look — at the national level. Los Angeles Times

Elected officials and advocates call attention to pay wage inequities on Latina Equal Pay Day. In California, Latinas account for 20% of the state population and face the most significant wage gap in the nation, according to advocates as they prepared for Latina Equal Pay Day on Thursday. Advocates said their goal was to call attention to the pay disparities and prompt officials to come up with programs and policy changes that help uplift Latinas in the workforce. The Sacramento Bee



A San Bernardino County deputy is charged after video shows him kicking a suspect in the head. The footage shows the 28-year-old deputy kicking the suspect twice in the head after he appeared to surrender following a motorcycle pursuit. The deputy was charged with one count of assault under the color of authority, court records show. San Bernardino Sun

Support our journalism

Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


Officials attempt to save Chinook salmon along Trinity River near Hoopa Valley Reservation. Officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are completing an effort to save more than 1 million Chinook salmon. Over the past two weeks, small salmon from a hatchery have been released along the Trinity River in Northern California near the Hoopa Valley Reservation, where members of the Hoopa Valley Tribe have subsisted off the river and its fish. Reuters


A rare Native American restaurant is set to open in the Bay Area. Crystal Wahpepah, a member of the Kickapoo Tribe, is an accomplished chef and longtime Oakland community activist who is scheduled to open her Wahpepah’s Kitchen on Oct. 30. Located in the city’s Fruitvale District, the restaurant will serve dishes like blue corn pancakes and acorn waffles. The restaurant will feature Native American art, including a mural by acclaimed Navajo artist Tony Abeyta. San Francisco Chronicle

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at


Los Angeles: Mostly sunny, 72. San Diego: Partly cloudy, 70. San Francisco: Mostly cloudy, 61. San Jose: Morning rain, 67. Fresno: Mostly cloudy, 71. Sacramento: Morning rain, 67.


Today’s California memory is from Katey Johansen


I was 16 years old when my dad took me to the L.A. auto dealer’s regular car auction to buy a car. In a sea of cars of all makes and models, I kept sitting in fancy sport cars or convertibles, but he bought me an old manual drive Toyota. I didn’t know how to drive a manual car. When I told him, he handed me the keys and said: “You’ll learn. See you at home.” We lived in Orange County, so with basic instructions, I quickly (and clumsily) learned to navigate the streets of L.A. and got home.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to