WASHINGTON — Catholic school administrators are working on how to help students without legal immigration status who face special problems in getting into and paying for college.

"Many of these students live in the shadows," said Elizabeth Ortiz, vice president of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity at DePaul University in Chicago.

Ortiz was one of two panelists at a program on financial and and admissions at the annual conference of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in Washington Feb. 3.

The roadblocks they face begin prior to matriculation.

Lynne Myers, director of financial aid at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said applicants who lack legal immigration status sometimes are given forms they are unable to complete. "The (form) is asking you to state that you are a citizen, when you're not," she said.

The federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid form is used for prospective college students to determine eligibility for financial aid.

Some newly admitted students are blindsided after learning about their immigration status at their school's financial aid office.

It's a double loss for the students. They are accepted to college but ineligible for federal student loans, Pell grants or other federal aid. "It is painful to apply and be admitted and then be told there is no funding source," said Myers.

DePaul tries to circumvent the problem by using an institutional need assessment form for immigrant students, who are ineligible for federal loans or aid. The university then offers scholarships based on need, or directs students to other scholarships for which they may qualify.

Immigrants who lack legal status experience other challenges in their classes.

One political science professor, for example, required all his students to register to vote. "We can't assume that every student has documented status," said Ortiz.

At DePaul, individual professors and administrators tried to help students who lacked legal status, but for a long time their efforts were uncoordinated. "A lot of us were working on it, but none of us were working on it together," Ortiz said.

Misinformation abounded. Some educators wondered if they had to turn students in to immigration authorities. No laws prohibit students without legal status from attending school, including at the college level. Educators have no duty to report them.

To end confusion, DePaul created a DREAM Resource Guide, named after the DREAM Act legislation, pending in Congress. Now, "all of (the faculty) are responsible for knowing the policy, the law, and supporting these students," said Ortiz.

But other concerns exist beyond graduation. Even if they are eligible for relief under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, such students cannot obtain professional licenses. Educators are encouraged to steer students to the career paths that are open to them after graduation.

The needs of immigrant students must be redressed through greater awareness and political action, said Ortiz. "You have to be outspoken on the issue, both inside and outside of campus."