This spring, 65,000 undocumented immigrants will graduate from high school in the United States. Thousands more are currently enrolled in the nation's colleges. Many of these students came to the United States at a young age, either with their families or to be with them. They grew up in the US, indistinguishable from their 'legal' peers.
Writing for Los AngelesCity Beat, Ana La O' reports that getting an education is becoming easier for undocumented immigrants, particularly in California. In 2001, the state's Legislature passed the 'California Dream Act,' which granted in-state tuition to any person who attended a California high school for at least three years, meaning both out-of-state and undocumented students could enjoy more affordable college tuition (previously, most undocumented immigrants attended community colleges). Students don't need to worry that applying for school through the provision will alert authorities to their illegal status. 'We are not an immigration organization,' says University of California spokesperson Richard Vazquez.
While California's approach has paved a path to education for undocumented immigrants, the road after graduation remains blocked. As La O' notes, the diplomas this 'first generation' of undocumented college students are about to get don't entitle them to legal work -- a frustrating prospect for those plugging away at four years of academia in the name of betterment through education. What's more, reports Melissa Renter?a for the San AntonioExpress-News, the struggles of graduating undocumented students might influence their younger family members. As College Board president Gaston Caperton said at the annual Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities conference: 'Their younger siblings run a greater risk of dropping out because they've seen other students work hard for nothing.'
There is a glimmer of hope for undocumented students. The proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, would grant citizenship to undocumented students who entered the country before they turned 16, have been living in the United States at least five years, and who graduate from a US high school. The students would then go to college or join the military, Renter?a reports. Presently the legislation is still just a dream: It's not expected to pass this year, if ever.
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