Common Terminology Related to Undocumented Students

Vocabulary matters, and understanding potential resources or avenues open to students, as well as ways to discuss considerations respectfully is a vital, basic way to exercise allyship with undocumented people.

Below is a list of undocumented-related terminology commonly used in the Blue Resource Center. The definitions and terminology have been adapted from the National Immigration Law Center, Migration Policy Institute, Immigrants Rising, American Immigration Council, along with the resources cited with the corresponding term.

Disclaimer: Words will never be able to properly define the complexity and reality of being undocumented.


The 100-Mile Zone refers to a federal law that allows without a warrant, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to board vehicles and vessels and search for people without immigration documentation within 100 miles from any external boundary of the USA. Roughly two-thirds of the U.S. population lives within the 100-mile zone (including those residing in Bellingham).

Advanced Parole is a type of type of documented that is issued solely to authorize the temporary parole of a person into the USA. The document may be accepted by a transportation company in lieu of a visa as an authorization for the holder to travel to the United States. An advance parole document is not issued to serve in place of any required passport. Advance parole is an extraordinary measure used sparingly to bring an otherwise inadmissible individual to the USA.

Customs and Border Protec­tion (CBP) is an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that is respons­ible for secur­ing the border and the area within 100 miles of it (and is the agency carry­ing out family separ­a­tions at the border).

DACAmented is an adjective that refers to individuals who are eligible, have applied for, and received documentation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Deferred action is a discretionary grant of relief by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  It can be granted to individuals who are in removal proceedings, who have final orders of removal, or who have never been in removal proceedings.  Individuals who have deferred action status can apply for employment authorization and are in the U.S. under color of law.  However, there is no direct path from deferred action to lawful permanent residence or to citizenship, and it can be revoked at any time.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a U.S. immigration policy created by the Obama Administration in June of 2012 that allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year relief from deportation known as “deferred action.” It also allows recipients to apply for work authorization during that two-year period. This was an executive action that only deferred removal and does not confer any change in legal status to the immigrants who meet the eligibility requirements. More than 800,000 undocumented youth nationwide received DACA. In Washington, approximately 18,000 undocumented youth are DACA recipients. 

In 2017, the Trump Administration attempted to rescind the DACA program, but were unsuccessful; there have been continuing legal challenges to the program that have led to continuing uncertainty. While the Biden Administration quickly affirmed its commitment to DACA recipients, the uncertain future of the DACA program, as well as any Congressional action that would lead to a permanent status process remains an ongoing challenge.

On July 16, 2021, Judge Andrew Hanen, a federal district court judge in Texas, ruled that the DACA program was unlawful, but put part of the decision on hold. The court ordered U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS) stop processing new DACA applications, as well as accompanying requests for employment authorization, until the litigation is resolved. In the meantime, the court has allowed USCIS to process DACA renewals, along with the accompanying requests for employment authorization. Current DACA recipients are also able to continue applying for Advanced Parole, and USCIS will process those applications, however applications have been known to take up to six months for non-emergency cases.

On July 27, 2021, USCIS updated its guidance to reflect how the agency will implement the court’s decision, which stated that USCIS will only make decisions on Renewal DACA applications. USCIS concluded that renewals are considered to be either:

  1. Applications filed where the application was either filed by an individual with current DACA status, or
  2. Applications filed by an individual whose DACA status expired less than a year ago.

Therefore, if somebody’s DACA status expired more than a year ago, USCIS considers the application to be a Renewal, and USCIS will treat the application as a subject to the permanent injunction, which means that USCIS will not make decisions on Renewal as Initial applications while it waits for the court process to play out. For those who had an Initial application or a Renewal application pending on July 16, 2021, those applications will remain pending.

In September 2021, the Biden Administration appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit.

On July 6, 2022, a three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments concerning whether the DACA program is lawful. The Fifth Circuit is expected to rule on the case in the coming months, with the losing side likely to seek further review by the full bench of the Fifth Circuit, and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court.

This section will be updated as soon as there are further developments in this case.

The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education, for Alien Minors) Act 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 the use of the derogatory terminology, “alien”. 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. The strategic tactic to garner political support of undocumented youth has promoted the idea that access to citizenship and rights should be granted only to a select group of ‘deserving’ immigrants.

DREAMer is a politicized term that references DREAM Act legislation that was introduced in 2001 as a bipartisan bill in the Senate. The term is often used in legislation, media, and education to refer to undocumented youth. The book “We Are Not Dreamers”: Undocumented Scholars Theorize Undocumented Life in the Unites States highlights that  “[a]llies—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' for it argues for citizenship for those who can benefit from the federal Dream Act were it ever to pass—undocumented, but young and educated.”

It is important to understand that many undocumented students do not identify as DREAMers because it often embraces a “good “immigrant versus “bad” immigrant narrative. A DREAMer is considered a “good” young immigrant trying to obtain a college degree and be successful, while the “bad” immigrant narrative is often used to describe the parents of the DREAMers who came to the country without immigration inspection. 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 those with other immigration statuses.

Dropping the I-Word refers to the slur, "Illegal,” which is used to dehumanize and discriminate against immigrants and POC regardless of migratory status. The I-word is shorthand for "illegal alien," "illegal immigrant," and other harmful terms.

Entry without inspection refers to individuals who have enter the USA without presenting typicalized government accreditation, e.g. visa.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that was enacted in 1974 that protects the privacy of student education records at educational institutions, including elementary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities, that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.

For more information:

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form was created under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to help manage student financial assistance programs. The programs provide grants, loans, and work-study funds to citizens, residents, or eligible students with visas attending college or career schools. Undocumented immigrant students are not eligible for federal student aid; however, if the student has been granted DACA, they can fill out the FAFSA application to get their Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR is sometimes used by community/private scholarships or institutions to grant financial aid that is not connected to federal or state funding to undocumented students.

Generation 1.5 refers to immigrants who were brought to the United States as young children and identify as American. They often have no memory of growing up in another country.

Guidelines for Enforcement Actions In or Near Protected Areas refers to the Department of Homeland Security’s policy to guide Immigration and Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) enforcement actions in or near protected areas, replacing previous sensitive locations guidance. This is the first-ever policy for both ICE and CBP provides an expanded and non-exhaustive list of protected areas, including new designations such as places where children gather, disaster or emergency relief sites, and social services establishments.

I-9 work authorization is documentation that proves that one has authorization work in the USA. This documentation is usually given to employees by one’s employer.

Immigrant is a noun that refers to someone who has already come to live permanently in a country, as opposed to "emigrant," which refers to a person leaving their own country to settle permanently in another. In the United States, as is the case in most countries, an "immigrant" is someone who has been granted legal status to stay in a country. An "immigrant" can be considered a "non-immigrant," as defined below, if they have only been granted status to stay in the country for a limited time.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a bureau within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that enforces immigration laws and conducts the apprehension, detention, and deportation of immigrants. As part of DHS, ICE is positioned to treat immigrants as a security threat, and not as people who are part of our communities.

In 2002, Congress passed the Home­land Secur­ity Act, which abol­ished the Immig­ra­tion and Natur­al­iz­a­tion Service (INS). Congress trans­ferred the func­tions of INS to three new agen­cies within the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protec­tion (CBP), and U.S. Citizen­ship and Immig­ra­tion Services (USCIS).

Immigration court refers to the administrative court which hears removal and deportation proceedings. Immigration Judges have the authority to grant foreign nationals legal status in the United States as well as the authority to order them removed (deported).

Immigration detention is a term used across the world to refer to the government practice of incarcerating human beings while they wait for a decision on their immigration case.

In an U.S. context, most facilities are either literal prisons run by private prison companies or county jails that contact with ICE.  They are a handful of government-run facilities, but they also look and feel like a prison. The movement to refer to the facilities as “prisons” and “jails” was spearheaded by Carlos Hidalgo and Sylvester Owino, both of whom were previously held in these immigrant prisons.

Immigration status refers to an individual’s status as a legal position held in regard to the rest of the community and not by an act of law or by the consensual acts of the parties, and it is in rem, i.e. these conditions must be recognised by the world. It is the qualities of universality and permanence that distinguish status from consensual relationships such as employment and agency.

Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) is a United States tax processing number issued by the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) to individuals who are required to have a taxpayer identification number, but who do not have, and are not eligible to obtain a Social Security Number from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

ITINs are issued regardless of immigration status because both resident and nonresident individuals may have federal tax return and payment responsibilities under the Internal Revenue Code. Individuals must have a filing requirement and file a valid federal income tax return to receive an ITIN, unless they meet an exception. 

International student is a student from a country that is not the USA, who has a student visa for the purposes of pursuing a college education or advanced degree in the United States. Undocumented students are not considered international students and do not have to meet international student admission criteria.

Legal Permanent Resident (also referred to as LPRs, “Resident Aliens,” Green Card Holders) are immigrants who are lawfully present in the U.S., can work and travel freely, and can remain in the United States indefinitely. After a certain period of lawful permanent residency, an immigrant can apply to naturalize, or to become a citizen of the U.S. Once an immigrant naturalizes to become a U.S. citizen, they are also then able to vote in elections.

LPR status is granted in two main ways:

  1. Through petitions based on U.S. citizen or LPR family members (which take a few months for immediate relatives like a spouse, and up to 20 years for more distant relatives like a sibling), and
  2. Through the sponsorship of an employer who certifies 5 that this person performs a role no U.S. citizen has been found to perform (usually high skilled). Note, therefore, that low-skilled workers will likely find that their only avenue to acquire LPR status is through a family member.

LPR status is not automatically conferred; applicants, even those who are married to a U.S. citizen, must pass a health and background check. Many crimes, including some related to undocumented border-crossing, can make the person ineligible for LPR status no matter how compelling their case to acquire it, and even if they are married to a U.S. citizen. Furthermore, most people who have lived in the United States undocumented must return to their home countries to apply for LPR status, and once there may be subject to 5-10 year “bars” to reentry; again, this applies even if they have a U.S. citizen spouse.

LPR status can be lost if the immigrant leaves the USA for an extended period of time and is deemed to have abandoned their residence. It can also be lost if a person commits a crime that makes them deportable.

Mixed-status family describes a family whose members include people with different citizenship or immigration statuses.  One example of a mixed-status family is one in which the parents are undocumented and the children are U.S.-born citizens.

The monarch butterflywhich freely travel across borders to survive each year, has become a symbol for many undocumented people living in the USA.

Naturalization describes the conferring, by any means, of citizenship upon a person after birth. 

National Institutions Coming Out Day (NICOD) is an effort by United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth led organization in the U.S., to encourage institutions of higher education to openly advocate for undocumented students.  

Non-citizen is a term used by the U.S. government to describe a person who:

  • Is not a United States citizen or permanent legal resident,
  • Does not hold a valid visa to be authorized to be in the USA, and
  • Are not seeking a visa for study or documentation for residency in the USA.

Non-Immigrant Visa is a visa that refers to a certificate-issued or a stamp-marked on a person’s passport by the immigration authorities of a country to indicate that the person’s credentials have been verified and he or she has been granted permission to enter the country for a temporary stay within a specified period. This permission, however, is conditional and subject to the approval of the immigration officer at the entry point.

Notice To Appear (NTA) is a document that summons a person to appear in court. For immigration purposes, a Notice to Appear form initiates the removal proceeding process by letting the foreign national know why the government believes that s/he should be removed from the U.S. It provides the foreign national with the date of their first court hearing.

Overstayed visa refers to a person who refers to an individual who entered the United States with proper documentation but stayed in the United States after their tourist, visitor, or student visa expired; thus his/her status is now "undocumented."

Plyer v. Doe is a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established that all school-age kindergarten to 12th grade students, regardless of immigration status, have a right to a free public education through protections afforded by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Additionally, public schools cannot ask about immigration status or social security numbers of their students and families.

For more information about the case's impact on public education:

Pro bono publico, often shortened to “pro bono,” is a phrase derived from Latin meaning “for the public good.” The term is generally used to describe legal work performed by lawyers without pay, often to help those without financial resources to pay for services, or to support social causes such as youth, battered women, or undocumented individuals.

The REAL (Raising Educational Access, changing Lives) Hope Act, also known as SB 6523, is a 2014 Washington State law that expanded eligibility for the Washington State Need Grant (SNG)* tuition program to undocumented students who meet the program’s eligibility requirements. This led to the creation of the Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA), which allows non-citizens to apply for student financial aid in Washington state.

*The SNG program is presently called the Washington College Grant (WCG) program.

REAL ID Act is a federal law that Congress passed in 2005 to help reduce fraud by establishing minimum security standards for state-issued driver licenses and ID cards. Nationwide, starting May 3, 2023 anyone traveling by airplane or visiting certain federal facilities must use a REAL ID compliant license or ID card.

Washington State’s Department of Licensing will still offer standard driver licenses and IDs that can be used by Washington residents to drive, or serve as identification. They don't indicate a person's residency, or legal status. However, beginning May 3, 2023, they will no longer be accepted as valid forms for ID for boarding domestic flights or accessing federal facilities. 

For more information about REAL ID, check out:

Residency status refers to in-state or out-of-state residency for tuition purposes. Thanks to Washington HB 1079, many undocumented people residing in WA are eligible to receive in-state resident tuition and fees.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a federal law that assists certain children who are foreign nationals in obtaining authorized permanent residency. Individuals under the jurisdiction of a juvenile court (“family court”, “orphan’s court”, or some other name, depending on which state it is in) due to abuse, abandonment, neglect, or similar reason under state law, may qualify for SIJS and based on that, apply for adjustment of status to a Lawful Permanent Resident.

Sanctuary Movement is a movement with religious and political underpinnings that works to protect and stand with undocumented immigrants facing detention and deportation. In the 1980s, hundreds of places of worship, campuses, and cities embraced the Sanctuary Movement and provided safe havens to Central American refugees who were denied political asylum.

  • sanctuary city refers to municipal jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with federal government efforts to enforce immigration law.
  • sanctuary campus provides safe(r) spaces and adopt policies and practices to build trust, ensure confidentiality, and protect undocumented students and other members of the campus community.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a temporary status granted by the U.S. government to individuals whose countries of origin are such that they unable to return safely or the country is unable to adequately handle their return 

U Non-Immigrant Status (U Visa, U-visa) is set aside for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.

UndocuAPI is a term that refers to the intersection of being undocumented and from Asian and the Pacific Islands.

Undocumented refers to a person who does not have the authorized papers required to prove residence, citizenship, and/or work authorization in the United States of America. There are several ways that people can become undocumented including:

  • Entering the USA without inspection (also known as “EWI”),
  • Originally entering the U.S. with authorization, but immigration documentation is expired, and
  • Submitting immigration documentation to continue to remain in the USA, but it is in processing or it is denied.

Often, students who are undocumented have lived in the USA for most of their lives and have attended schools in the USA for most or all of their lives.  “Undocumented” is the recommended term to use, instead of “illegal,” which has a negative and derogatory connotation.

UndocuBlack is a term that refers to the intersection of being undocumented and Black.

UndocuQueer is an adjective that refers to the intersection of being undocumented and queer.

Undocu-friendly is a term that refers to institutions that have policies and systems in place that aim to support undocumented students.

U.S. citizen is a person has citizenship in the USA through birth on USA soil, birth to USA citizen parents abroad, naturalization, or the naturalization of the parent while the Legal Permanent Resident child is still young (exact age has changed over time).

U.S. Citizen­ship and Immig­ra­tion Services (USCIS) is an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that is respons­ible for processing requests for immig­ra­tion, such as applications for asylum, DACA, work permits, green cards, and citizenship.

Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA) is for undocumented undergraduate students in WA that qualify under the Real Hope Act for state-funded financial aid. Eligible undocumented students who are residents of Washington States, are unable to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) due to immigration status, but may instead complete the WASFA. This is due to the passing of SB 6523, giving access to eligible students to apply for the State Need Grant. The application opens on October 1st of every year.