In California, fear may be driving eligible immigrant youth from applying for college financial aid

Applications for the California Dream Act—which allows eligible undocumented immigrant youth access to state financial aid for college—are down.  “We’re 20,000 students behind,” said the California Student Aid Commission’s Lupita Cortez Alcalá. With a deadline about two weeks away, officials say applications are at one-half of what they were last year, and they’re pretty sure they know why:

College counselors and Cortez Alcalá cite immigrant families’ increasing distrust of the government. Students are especially concerned about the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which hangs in the balance.

“There’s rumors about ICE raids all the time — some unfounded and some maybe founded,” said Jane Slater, a teacher at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, Calif., who also advises a club for students who are in the country without legal permission. “The headlines about immigration make people feel like they’re really in the spotlight. Kids are more afraid for their families than they are for themselves.”

Officials noted a drop in applications last year, but “after weeks of advocacy and ‘cash for college’ events to spread the word, 36,127 applications came in — slightly more than the year before.” But even in a state as pro-immigrant as California—home to the largest population of DACA recipients in the nation—there is panic.