Some 2 million or more undocumented young people call the U.S. home. About 65,000 graduate from public high schools every year. These cross-border children are indistinguishable from U.S.-born kids, tapping out text messages and watching gory horror movies and navigating the shoals of adolescence in status-conscious high-school cafeterias.
But under current law, they have no status; they must leave or go underground when they turn 18. Abruptly, after their tenure as legal youth, they become undocumented adults denied jobs, most college grants and scholarships.
At times these young students who have been here in the U.S. almost their whole life and with college educations are being deported. Chih Tsung Kao went to Boulder schools and then played football and got an engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines. After graduating, he continued to go to the gym and to hang out with friends, but without legal status, he couldn’t get a job in his field.
The Boulder nonprofit group VOICE (Voices of Immigrant Children for Education and Equality) tries to help undocumented young people in the Boulder area. At a meeting on a summer afternoon in a downtown house, the new Arizona law hangs like a pall in the room. Fighting for immigration reform in a recession feels like applying for a job with 11 million applicants.
Erika Blum helped to start VOICE. Her husband, a professor of Latin American history at the University of Colorado, was born in Nicaragua and emigrated in the 1970s. If her husband tried today to retrace his steps to citizenship and scholarship, he told her recently, “I’d be working at McDonald’s.”
Every year since 2001, sympathetic members of Congress have attempted to pass the DREAM Act (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors), which was originally co-sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Richard Durbin, D-Ill. The DREAM Act would grant people like Chih a path to citizenship if he meet some basic criteria — like arriving in the U.S. before the age of 16, going to school or joining the military, and possessing “good moral character.” As President Obama said in a speech in June, “We should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents by denying them the chance to stay here and earn an education and contribute their talents to build the country where they’ve grown up.”
Title: Young, All-American, Illegal Undocumented kids thrive in the U.S. until they turn 18 and the law cracks down
Publication: High Country News For people who care about the West: August 16, 2010
Author: Daniel Glick
Faculty Evaluator: Sheila Katz and Peter Phillips, Sonoma State University
Student Researcher: Sam Bergman, Sonoma state University