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Young Illegal Immigrants Get a Chance to Learn but Not Earn

Posted July 12th, 2010 in Uncategorized by steve

(From the Arizona Daily Star)

Juan’s room shows a life shaped by American education. It’s painted in the colors of Dallas’ Thomas Jefferson High School, his new alma mater. Trophies and medals brag for him: top 10 percent of his class, captain of two sports teams, a district first-place finisher in track, an almost perfect SAT score, the only football player in band. He’s a poster child of American schooling, with wishes to enter the military or teach English.

Neither option is open to Juan, who has grown up in the country illegally. Now he must realign his goals to fit his immigration status.

Thousands of high school graduates like Juan are discovering the dichotomy between a federal law that ensures their education and one that prevents them from using it.

“I never saw myself as an immigrant,” said Juan, a toddler when his family brought him from Mexico. Like the other students in this story, he is being identified only by his first name.

“I’ve been a Dallas boy forever. So it’s a bad feeling, knowing 17 years of study with regular kids — doing better than them — and I can’t even go out and find a job.” Federal law bans public schools from denying admission to illegal immigrants. Between 50,000 and 70,000 of them graduate each year from American high schools. No such law exists for public universities, though 10 states including Texas provide some form of in-state tuition aid to illegal immigrants.

Juan will attend the University of Texas at San Antonio. But in sharp irony to the country’s education ethos, a degree will not boost his career. Juan can’t gain legal employment without a Social Security number, meaning he can return to Mexico with his acquired skills or do the same work as his relatives here. He has decided to major in business administration because he knows a bit about mechanics from his uncle and won’t need to show papers to open a shop.

“Opportunity comes for people who work hard for it,” said the 18-year-old, echoing the mantra he learned in school. “Something might happen to reward me.”

Their legal paradox has become a central issue for illegal immigrant students, said Roberto Gonzales, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Washington who studies the demographic.

“Our laws treat children and adults differently, but they don’t allow for the life course of children becoming adults,” he said. “It produces a jarring effect right around junior or senior year when that comes into play, and they realize the experiences they have had up until then are not going to prepare them to move forward as adults.” Because of this, he said, only 5 percent to 10 percent of illegal immigrant high school students continue their educations. “From a policy standpoint, from a governmental standpoint, it’s a real waste of our talent. It’s a loss of investment we make in young people, who have skills and experience. The best they can hope for is to get into some graduate program and stall for time while they wait for legislation to pass.”

That proposed legislation is the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act, a previously defeated bill that would create a path to citizenship for students. Immigration experts say it may have a greater chance of passing this year than a comprehensive immigration package. More than 100 members of the U.S. House have agreed to support the measure.

But that doesn’t make it likely. The shadow of Arizona’s new law cracking down on illegal immigrants has stretched to Texas. A current lawsuit by the Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas challenges the in-state tuition law. Accounts of detained Texan college students — from attendees of Harvard University to the University of Texas at Arlington — are increasingly common.

Despite initial discussion to allow undocumented students into the military, the state Republican Party opted to oppose amnesty at its convention in June.

“Everyone is quick to blame the enforcement of the law,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “Nobody wants to attribute blame to parents who made a conscious decision to violate the law.” Others sacrifice for it, he said. “When you admit a kid to the University of Texas who is in the country illegally, by definition you are excluding somebody else. That kid also worked hard and his or her family didn’t break any law.”

Texas awarded about $33.6 million in state and institutional financial aid to these students between fall 2004 and summer 2008, which also includes those who are not legal permanent residents or U.S. citizens.

U.S. citizens “are having trouble making ends meet and can’t pay tuition for their own kids,” said David Rogers, the coalition’s attorney for the lawsuit, who believes the fragile economy and Arizona backlash will spawn greater restrictions for illegal immigrants.

David, another illegal immigrant, leaves the political wars of immigration reform to others. He tries not to think about it. He’d rather talk about fighting in the Army.

Half-deflated graduation balloons hang in a two-room apartment the 17-year-old shares with his extended family. If he had his own room, he said, he would display his ROTC medals — best sharpshooter, battalion leader, dedicated cadet. The certificate he keeps in a protective folder says he exemplifies “the high ideals and principles which motivated and sustained our patriot ancestors.” David realized he didn’t belong in that category when he tried to join the military.

“I can’t explain it,” he said. “You just go there and are brave enough to fight for the freedom of the United States. I would be fighting for my country.”

Instead, he will attend Brookhaven College in the fall and redirect dreams toward a career in Christian rap.

Thomas Jefferson High principal Eddie Conger sees more students like David every year, Texan dreamers suddenly aware they will relive their parents’ lives.

“Yes, we need to secure our borders,” he said. “But you’ve got to look at these kids that we have educated and allow them in because it’s in the best interest of our country.”

Viriviana, an undocumented student who attended Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, just graduated with honors from the University of Texas at Austin. She’ll start a master’s degree in social work at Columbia University this fall. Then she’ll wait.

“It feels like my status is my worst enemy,” she said. “It’s preventing me from doing what I was taught to do.”

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Georgia searches for undocumented students

Posted July 1st, 2010 in Uncategorized by steve

As reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Several of Georgia’s public colleges say fewer than five illegal immigrants took classes on their campuses last year.

The State Board of Regents directed its 35 colleges and universities to make sure all students from out of state, including those from out of the country, are paying out-of-state tuition. Through this process, colleges are learning how many students are undocumented.

Georgia State University told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it enrolled 19 undocumented students in 2009 — less than one-tenth of 1 percent of its total enrollment of 30,427. But Georgia Tech officials said they enrolled fewer than five, and the University of West Georgia said only three attended last fall. Augusta State University had just one – although he has since received an appropriate visa. Southern Polytechnic State University reported no undocumented students for the fall and one for the summer semester, and the Medical College of Georgia said it had none.

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New poll shows Americans favor DREAM Act

Posted June 30th, 2010 in Uncategorized by steve — As much as the proponents of rounding up undocumented immigrants and sending them back across the border hate it, the majority of Americans have made it a point to publicly support one type of undocumented immigrant — the children.

We have seen that whenever a promising young student, who happens to be undocumented, is taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a good number of Americans decry the possible deportation of that student.

Time and time again, I’ve seen readers of Latina Lista, who are vocal critics that any sympathy or empathy be shown to undocumented immigrants, soften their stance when these young students are threatened.

Now, a new national bipartisan poll bears out those observations.

According to the poll commissioned by First Focus, a bipartisan child advocacy organization, 70 percent of Americans favor the DREAM Act.

That’s a 12 percent increase compared to a poll taken in 2004 when there was only 58 percent public support for the DREAM Act.

Over 1,000 people were randomly called by Opinion Research Corporation.

While the poll only asked two questions, the breakdown of respondents along party lines illustrates that 60 percent of polled Republicans want to see a DREAM Act passed.

A response like that gives hope to not only young DREAM Act students waiting for Congress to do something but should serve as an indicator to Democrats in Congress that immigration reform is not as dead an issue as their colleagues would like.

“The future success of our country lies in our ability to cultivate an educated workforce capable of competing in the global economy,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus. “We cannot afford to continue losing the talent of so many students who have already been educated in American schools. We strongly urge Congress to take action this year to pass the DREAM Act.”

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Undocumented students hunger strike ends

Posted June 29th, 2010 in Uncategorized by steve

Their hunger strike is over after 13 days, ended when one of them was hospitalized with heat stroke and exhaustion. But for the three young women who were encamped in Raleigh until Monday night, subsisting on water and sports drinks to call attention to their cause, the fight for immigration reform goes on. “We grew weaker, but our spirits grew stronger,” Rosario Lopez told 100 folks who attended a final fellowship gathering. “Let’s keep the dream alive.”

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Latino college graduation success

Posted June 1st, 2010 in Uncategorized by steve

Here’s an unusual story.  At Western Oregon University, a public four-year school in the Willamette Valley, Latinos are graduating at a higher rate than their white peers. What is WOU doing that other colleges are not? Check out the story at the Oregonian.

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Latino college attendance

Posted April 28th, 2010 in Uncategorized by steve

The Lubbock, Texas newspaper ran a story recently about how Hispanic students are preparing for college at a young age. A few misleading sentences were dropped into the article, suggesting that Hispanic college attendance rates are improving, while this rate has been stagnant. However, the article does identify one of the areas that has shown great promise recently–promoting college to preschoolers.

An ongoing experiment in changing family culture through education has been taking place at The Harlem Children’s Zone (run by fellow Beacon-Press author Geoffrey Canada). The Harlem Children’s Zone, or HCZ, is a non-profit agency that administers services in an almost 100-block area of New York, aimed at eliminating generational poverty.

One of HCZ’s more ground-breaking efforts is the Baby College, a nine-week parenting workshop for parents of children aged 0-3 years. While Baby College teaches new parents many tactics for properly caring for their children, it also encourages brain development from an early age through reading.

Studies have shown that a child’s vocabulary varies greatly depending on the parent’s income and education. Three year-old children from families on welfare know about 500 words, while children the same age, from professional families, know over 1,000. Not only does this have obvious effects on reading (and listening) comprehension levels when the child enters elementary school, reading also increases the child’s cognitive functioning.

The HCZ and Baby College are not aimed at Hispanic parents, but the lessons taken from HCZ need to be applied to communities in poverty around the nation. Raising educated children does not begin in high school, nor even in elementary school, but at birth.

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