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Tough Road for Undocumented Students After College Graduation

Nov 21, 2011

While undocumented students in 13 states have scored a victory by being allowed to pay in-state tuition for public colleges, this victory could be considered short-lived. Once those same students have graduated, their problems have just begun - they've got to find a job. And while landing employment can be challenging for any college graduate in these tough economic times, those without legal status face a particularly tough uphill battle.

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By Harrison Howe

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A 'False Hope'

While a college degree has of course long been associated with career success and the increased likelihood of obtaining a job, for some graduates having that diploma will essentially mean nothing. Without legal status, undocumented students simply have another hurdle to overcome in a job market that's already less than ideal even for the most qualified of natural citizens.

Some studies have shown that offering in-state tuition increases the enrollment of undocumented students. While the numbers might seem encouraging, the end result unfortunately stays the same: these students are not likely to secure a job following graduation. So, all we're left with is an increased number of unemployed, educated illegal immigrants. The Daily Northwestern, the campus newspaper of Northwestern University, referred to this group as a 'minority within a minority,' since only a small percentage of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school go on to college.

In October Terry Gorman, executive director of the nonprofit organization Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, told the Huffington Post 'This is going to be an educated population that can't do anything with their education because they're illegal aliens. What do they do? They can't work.' He added that allowing these students to pay in-state tuition provides a 'false hope' about post-graduation employment opportunities.

Take the case of Andres, a young illegal immigrant in California whose story was told in the May 19, 2010 edition of the Latin America News Dispatch. Andres holds degrees in Sociology and Chicano and Latino Studies and works long shifts serving food in a restaurant. This might be the best job he can find unless he successfully obtains legal status in the country.

Some may not have that sense of 'false hope.' Alma, an undocumented college student quoted in a May 2009 research report issued by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, was clearly aware of her dim prospects: 'I can't drive, I can't vote, I can't be involved in many social activities... I can't apply for scholarships, I can't apply for loans, I can't buy a home, I can't do anything... I'm non-existent in a way... As my senior year approaches, I'm like, what am I gonna do?'

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Will Undocumented Students' DREAM Ever Become Reality?

Can Andres and Alma and so many others like them be saved by a DREAM?

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act is a federal legislation proposal that was first introduced in August 2001. Among other things, the Act would allow illegal immigrants who meet certain conditions to be awarded 'conditional lawful permanent resident status.' These conditions include graduation from a U.S. high school, continuous residency in the U.S. for at least five years and having been under the age of 16 when brought into the country. The 'conditional' would be removed from the status if after six years the student has completed two years in a bachelor's or higher degree program.

Cindy, an undocumented senior at University of Chicago who fully realizes that her college degree will likely be useless once she receives it, says the DREAM Act might be her only hope. She told The Daily Northwestern 'It would give (young people) permission to live and work in the U.S. without living in fear every day of being deported. This is a piece of legislation that would really benefit our community.'

Cindy might be right. There is the belief that legalizing immigrant college graduates could lead to an economic boost. The Public Policy Institute of California states that legalized immigrants who hold at least a bachelor's degree will see about a 10% increase in earnings and also improve their employment outlook. Some point to the increase in tax revenue from higher wages resulting from the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.

But until the DREAM is realized, graduates like Andres will continue to work at lower-paying jobs at best, if at all, and students like Cindy will continue to worry about their futures as their academic careers come to a close.

Did the recent crackdown on undocumented students in Alabama have any effect on attendance as the new school year began?

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