Drinking Experiences Among AB540 and Undocumented Students

Anumita and Sebastian write about the drinking experiences of students who hold undocumented and/or AB540 status. They bring awareness to how alcohol and substance use can impact one’s legal status and what the UC Davis community can do to mitigate these consequences. 

In a survey given to the AB540 and Undocumented Center, 15 out of 17 respondents said that there is stigma behind the use of drugs and substances in their community. One respondent shared that there is a large stereotype that undocumented individuals of all statuses come from families of smugglers and drug dealers. As a result, when an underage student with undocumented status uses alcohol or any substance, they are judged or even looked down upon. This negative perception of drug and substance use in college students with undocumented status can be socially and mentally debilitating because they are viewed differently than their peers. They feel that they are constantly being watched, so even one misstep can damage their legal status. 

How do we as a campus support our undocumented and AB540 peers in situations where alcohol or substances are involved? 

AB540 is a California law that allows nonresident students (those who do not identify California as their residency) to pay in-state tuition. Non-resident UC Davis students pay almost more than double the amount of tuition fees compared to resident students. AB540 also allows nonresident students to apply and receive state financial aid. 

This is a useful tool for many undocumented students who have financial obstacles that prevent them from paying for college and cannot apply for federal aid due to their status. There are different types of documented, undocumented, and immigrant statuses that may affect qualification for this tuition exemption, however it is recommended that you apply regardless of your status to check if you qualify. 

There are certain requirements for AB540 that can be affected by drug and alcohol misconduct. AB540 requires that its applicants have the minimum academic unit requirement (12 units) to be considered full-time students. However, UC Davis Office of Student Support and Judicial Affairs (OSSJA) can take action such as holds and suspensions on class registration and enrollment that may affect your full-time student classification. Violations of school policy committed under the influence of drugs, alcohol, and other controlled substances as grounds for disciplinary action; more information can be found here.  

For students without any documentation concerns, criminal charges tend to hold less weight. Even federal law states that drug convictions will not affect federal student aid eligibility. However, for undocumented students who receive college eligibility through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), their rights to stay in the country or enroll in their university can be affected by criminal charges. Those who apply or are currently protected under DACA can become ineligible for protected status through significant misdemeanors, which DUI charges fall under. 

As a result, underage drinking for undocumented students can serve as a concern. One may ask- why don’t students simply state that they are of undocumented status and decline a drink? Well, students with undocumented statuses typically keep their statuses under the radar. That being said, it’s an inequitable solution to expect undocumented students not to drink and act differently from their peers. Therefore, it is important not to peer pressure. If documented citizens are caught underage drinking, they are more likely to face minor legal and social consequences. These minor consequences may not apply to undocumented students. We as a community should limit peer pressure because we truly don’t know anyone’s legal status and how consequences can vary person by person. 

Note: This feature was written under the guidance of the AB540 and Undocumented Center. 



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Anumita Alur is a junior majoring in Human Development with minors in Public Health and Tech Management. She is a student coordinator for the Safe Party team and hopes to pursue  public health in the future.

Sebastian Lopez is a sophomore majoring in Political Science - Public Service. He is an Instagram coordinator for the Safe Party team and is enthusiastic about educating students about drugs and alcohol.