By Andrew Edwards
Despite having spent nearly their entire lives here, many children of parents who entered the country illegally face the threat of deportation every day. These people face further difficulties when they attend college, as without proof of citizenship or a Social Security number they cannot qualify for financial aid and must pay out of state tuition.
However, two pieces of recent legislation may make it easier for undocumented young people to advance their education after high school.
The first of these is a new Department of Homeland Security program introduced by President Obama, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This program provides relief from deportation or deportation hearings for undocumented young people. It will also grant those who qualify a temporary work permit.
“It’s something to address children who were brought to this country unbeknownst to them,” said Krysta Walia, Whatcom Community College’s multicultural support coordinator.
According to a recent report conducted by the College Board, one third of the United States’ immigrant population, approximately 12 million people, are undocumented. Of these, about 15 percent, or two million people, are children.
To qualify for the program, a person must be between the ages of 15 and 31 on June 15, 2012 and have lived in the U.S. for five years before then. Furthermore, they must have either been in school or earned a high school diploma or equivalent at the time of application, as well as have no major criminal convictions.
While the program can provide relief to those facing deportation, it could also be “a huge risk,” said Walia. Applying for the program essentially reveals to the authorities that a person is undocumented, Walia said, and requires that the applicant put “all their trust in a government that has not been supportive” of immigrants.
Deferred Action can grant temporary work permits to those approved, but it does not grant undocumented students the ability to apply for financial aid.
The second piece of legislation, Washington state HB 1079, is a bill passed in 2003 that grants in-state tuition to undocumented students who can prove Washington state residency. This provision is especially important for making college affordable to undocumented young people, Walia said, since without a Social Security number they cannot qualify for financial aid and have to pay for college on their own.
“Only 11 states in the US have a policy like this,” Walia said. It is the state’s way of saying “you’ve lived here your whole life, so you shouldn’t be paying out of state or international tuition,” she said.
It can be incredibly difficult for undocumented students to even find a job, since “without a Social Security number, it would have to be under the table,” said Walia. These students deserve to pay the same as their native-born peers as, by paying more than double what they do, “they’re boosting the economy out of pocket,” she said.
“Undocumented students have the right, according to the federal government, to attend K-12 education,” Walia said, adding that it does not make sense to invest in this education but not allow them to obtain a degree and further contribute to society.
“To be competitive in a global economy, why not invest in these amazing students who bring so much to our community,” Walia asked.
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