The 1982 Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe guaranteed access to free public education for undocumented students. (Nguyen & Martinez, 2015) The public debate that surrounds undocumented immigrants is often harsh and aggressive, predominately focusing on the economic burden on U.S. citizens and taxpayers. Economic arguments against undocumented immigration claim that undocumented families drain public resources and do not contribute to society. While there are costs associated with providing resources for a growing population at the local and state level, undocumented immigrants contribute more money in taxes than the cost of providing these services at the federal level as reported by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office in 2007. (Becerra et al., 2012)
The costs associated with providing education, health care, and social service programs such as reduced school lunch and other anti-poverty programs like SNAP and WIC account for only a small portion of a states budget. Providing education for undocumented immigrant children only constitutes for 3.3% of the total cost, $520-535 billion, spent annually to educate all children in the U.S. (Becerra et al., 2012)
Every year about 65,000 undocumented high school students graduate and are unable to pursue higher education. (Nguyen & Serna, 2014) In 2001 the DREAM act, Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, was first introduced to the Senate and proposed a series of requirements that would allow undocumented immigrants in the U.S. a pathway to permanent residency. The first version of this bill intended to adjust the legal status of undocumented immigrants under the age of 35 who had graduated from a U.S. high school or completed a G.E.D. program, arrived before the age of 16, and had lived in the U.S. continuously five years prior to the bills passing. Those qualifying would be granted six years of temporary residency and could apply for permanent residency after two years of military service or higher education, having passed a background check and maintained good moral standing with the law. The term “dreamers” was given to undocumented students in pursuit of higher education, and will from hereon be referred to as so. CITATION x3 This bill has since gone through many revisions and has been reintroduced to both the House of Representatives and the Senate but has yet to pass. This politic divide has stalled the process for a federal-level comprehensive immigration reform, forcing states to take it upon themselves to provide temporary relief for these students. Some states have made considerable progress allowing their undocumented students to pursue higher education at in-state resident tuition rates. In 2001 California was the first state to take action in favor of this opportunity. Although this does not solve all the financial issues undocumented students face, it does lower the cost barriers given that annual tuition cost for out of state students is often more than double that of an in-state student. Washington State also adapted its own version of the DREAM act, HB 1079, which provided the same opportunity and required a signed affidavit by students confirming they met all establish criteria. Universities throughout this state have integrated their own resources to better understand the needs of these students and guarantee their educational success.
Conversely, some states have imposed laws and policies that have created additional obstacles for students, as if pursing higher education as a minority was not challenging enough. (but perhaps this facilitates drive for success) In 2006, Arizona took action and banned in-state tuition rates for undocumented students, still allowing them to attend college but at out of state rates (Diaz et al., 2011). Other states have not explicitly banned in-state tuition rates but instead require students to prove their legal status while others have disallowed enrollment by undocumented students entirely.
It is clear that many states have dedicated the attention this matter requires resulting in legislation that is pro DREAMers. Even so, it has become evident that many potential DREAMers remain unaware of the opportunities becoming readily available to them. An example of this is the University of California, Berkley, where only 250 out of its over 250,000 undergraduates were undocumented, suggesting that this effort is not enough. (Nguyen & Serna, 2014) A lack of community support and out reach for these students also widens the gap between them and their education.
In 2012, the Obama administration authorized the immigration policy referred to as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in an attempt to provide temporary authorization to the estimated 1.4 million undocumented individuals residing in the United States. This program allows, for those who met the strict eligibility criteria, a renewable work permit, a social security number, and exemption from deportation. Since its implantation, DACA has provided about 500,000 undocumented youth, with many applications still pending, with the opportunity to live, work, and pursue higher education (Adams & Boyne, 2015). It is important to know that DACA, although a huge progress in immigration reform, does not offer a pathway to citizenship or legalization (Warley, 2012). Lisa M. Martinez (2014) conducted in-depth interviews with undocumented individuals of collegiate age and of Latino origin about the impact the recent immigration reform had on their lives. Out of the 18-person sample size, 13 were attending a 4-year university, 3 had college degrees, and 2 were not attending college but planned to within the year. This study exposed the range of emotions these students experienced as a result of the DACA program. The overall findings reported that these students were optimistic of the opportunities this program could potentially offer to them (Warley, 2012). Given the small sample of this study the researcher was able to conduct personal, detailed interviews however it cannot be used to generalize a universal sentiment of this program. Although a study with a larger sample size suggested similar results in that the DACA program has temporarily provided relief and possibility of economic and social integration of undocumented people, it is still only a small representation of this population (Gonzales et al., 2014).
In spite of all this legislative advancement, the pursuit of higher education and achieving residency have been addressed separately, and in doing so has resulted in inefficiently addressing all aspects of this matter. The first proposed DREAM act was the only one to address the issue of naturalization for undocumented students. It is undeniable that the pursuit of higher education and beyond runs parallel with acquiring citizenship, and although states have worked to alleviate the former, not having the security of residency inhibits students further. Pursuing higher education is a right, and allowing unauthorized students to do so at in-state tuition rates is only alleviating half the matter. Without having the ability to apply for jobs, loans, and financial aid, how do we assume these students, who already have an inclination towards higher poverty rates, pay for college? CITATION? By the time they get to college they have already over come so many hurdles, why should their futures be jeopardized even further. That is not to say that state legislation has not played in important role in this matter. Action taken at the state level has brought awareness and helped shape senate legislative policies. The perception that illegal aliens are responsible for all the economic turmoil and increased crime rates in America is so deeply rooted in a large percentage of public opinion that it has actually being used as a standpoint by politicians who in turn are influencing the very policies detrimental to our forward progress as a nation (Haddon, 2015). These opinions lack any significant empirical evidence and have lead to questionable practices, involving stereotyping and the invasion of privacy, by those in position of authority (Cleaveland, 2012). The inability of immigration policies to take in to account the holistic reasons of why migration occurs and how it impacts our nation socially and economically, results in an even greater gap between a country’s national and foreign-born citizens. Political theorists have proposed that migration is effective at reducing poverty CITATION Oberman (2015) reports that there is evidence to support adapting a relatively open immigration policy by richer countries could be of significant aid to people living in the poorer countries as well as their own economies. Higher education is directly correlated to gaining successful entry into the work force. Therefore it is in better interest for policy makers to instill comprehensive immigration reforms that tackle all these issues and provide attainable, long-term relief for undocumented people. Continuing to ignore the fact that this country’s foundation lies in its immigrants is quite literally throwing away the educational and economic opportunities of the future generations. A study done on immigrant mental health (Ortega et al., 2000) compared immigrants from Mexico to Mexicans born in America and concluded that U.S. born Mexicans had a higher risk for developing psychiatric disorders than their immigrant counterpersons. These findings challenge the conclusions of this paper, but because these studies lacked a comparable population, its data does not give applicable results to this research. Another study conducted on mental disorders among Mexican immigrants living in the U.S., determined that immigrants had an overall higher lifetime prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders (Breslau et al., 2007). In order to quantify its validity, this study compared psychiatric risk in Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. to a sample population of Mexicans living in Mexico, concluding that immigration was significantly and positively related to the subsequent onset of these disorders. Age of immigration and duration of residence were also contributing factors. The sample size in this study was relatively small due to the represented being limited to English speaking Mexicans. Gathering information from a larger, more inclusive population, would reinforce these results. Deisenhammer et al. (2012) also found that migrants from Europe had a generally higher rate of depression than their counterparts without a history of migration. This is consistent with the findings that immigration has a significant impact on the mental health of those leaving their home countries. Ethnic and cultural factors have also been recognized as having a great impact on the prevalence of mental disorders amongst immigrant populations. Medical professionals having to attend to patients from different ethnic and racial backgrounds often have a hard time understanding and diagnosing mental illness as a result as of those differences (Deisenhammer et al., 2012). The differences are also associated with the