Viewpoint: Why Higher Education Must Be Part of Immigration Reform

Only 10 percent of undocumented students who graduate high school go to college. This is an enormous waste of talent and opportunity

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Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Student Milca Calymayor (right) during a demonstration urging relief by governmental agencies for those in deportation proceedings on June 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif.

Last week, President Obama and a bipartisan group of senators outlined a plan for comprehensive immigration reform. Like the DREAM Act that has stalled for years in Congress, the proposal’s outline hints at an expedited pathway to citizenship for young people who came to the U.S. as children if they attend college or serve in the military. As the details are worked out in the coming weeks, it is critical that legislation include provisions that make it easier for undocumented high schoolers to go to college. Education is the gateway to the American Dream. But today our immigration laws make higher education — a virtual requirement for financial security — out of reach for more than one million undocumented students.

(MORE: Read this week’s TIME cover story, “Immigrant Son,” by Michael Grunwald)

Of the roughly 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from American high schools each year, only 5–10% will go to college, usually a community college, according to a 2009 report by The College Board. Many undocumented students don’t know if they’re allowed to apply for college (the law varies state by state), or are afraid that submitting applications will attract attention from the authorities. Those who do earn college acceptances are often forced to turn them down because they can’t afford it. Their immigration status bars them from taking advantage of in-state tuition and financial aid programs that are available to their peers.

Even students who beat the odds and graduate from college face yet another barrier: They can’t legally work in the U.S.and put their degrees to good use. “Children don’t make the decision to cross the border, but they pay for it their whole lives,” says Liz Coffin-Karlin, one of our 10,000 Teach for America members who work with students in low-income communities across the country.

(MORE: Not Legal, Not Leaving)

Take Ramiro, an undocumented student in North Texas who came to the U.S. from Mexico with his parents and two siblings when he was 5. His family lived in daily terror of being discovered – a very real fear after Ramiro came home when he was 12 to an empty house and discovered his father had been deported. Although he excelled in school, Ramiro wouldn’t even tell his closest friends that he was undocumented, and was ashamed to tell his teachers. As graduation approached, he felt increasingly isolated and depressed as friends discussed what schools they were going to and post-graduation plans.

“I was paralyzed,” he says, “I didn’t know what I was going to do and worse, who I could ask for help. I was my only resource.” He finally worked up the nerve to enroll in community college, but even that was an ordeal. In the registrar’s office, he didn’t know what information he could give without exposing himself. Ramiro started working to save up money for classes, and did so well he was promoted to supervisor. But when his employer tried verifying his information for the new role and discovered a discrepancy with his paperwork, he was fired on the spot. Unable to keep a job because of his status, Ramiro poured over scholarship applications to find one that could help him – only to discover nearly all scholarships are for citizens or permanent residents only. “I read through so many applications and would get so excited because I seemed to meet every criteria,” he says. “But then in the very last line there would be that disclaimer. I finally gave up on college because I felt there were no options.”

(MORE: Does College Put Kids on a “Party Pathway”?)

Every time a child’s promise is cut short by their legal status, our country wastes precious resources and loses talent we need. Our laws guarantee all students the right to a K–12 education, regardless of their immigration status. Our teachers work tirelessly to give them the skills they need to make it to college. Why should we let an inconsistent system prevent them from fulfilling their potential and giving back to the country they call home?

MORE: Immigration Debate: The Problem with the Word ‘Illegal’


Look at all the pro-slavery people just salivating at more cheap foreign labor.


This is an Opinion article for a reason. So ignorant people would understand that she is expressing what se thinks is right. Now good thing many people do not have the priviledge to be a journalist because they have no clue what they are saying and just use stereotypes. Learn your own facts before you try to make a point!


So Wendy,your probley over there. Some northeast location that has never really been exposed to the LATINO school age kid. Setting in a chair looking at someone else in a chair.Your opinions are going to be somewhat deluded. 

Come down here to the Southwest (Arizona) see what the real Latino Dreamer etc is in reality. The majority have held on to their parents life style and mannerisms. They can't make it in college and most don't want to. Unless it results in a paid government grant or handout.

Their biggest deterrent is their Mexican culture. And it ain't going to change anytime soon. Handed down by their parents. Picking cotton is OK.

School ain't that important neither is English language learning.  After all we have put Spanish labels on everything they drink and use. Drive. Stop signs  may be next.?????

Most of the girls are going to be knocked up by the time their 18 and the guys are not interested in real punch a clock work type of work.

All of this coming to your area soon I'm sure. Latin America.

NenaCardenas-Novitsky 1 Like

@RonnieBakerSo Ronnie, you are probably over there in Arizona relying a little too much on stereotypes. I understand, there are stereotypes for all ethnic groups, and some individuals fit them quite well. However, any reasonable person out there would try to surpass this mentality based on assumptions and encounters with a select few. Allow me to reply to your point-by-point analysis of the situation.

You see Ronnie, I was that LATINO school age kid dreamer (I knew and know many others) who sat in school and appreciated the opportunity I was given. At times, it seemed, I did so a little more than the ones who by the luck-of the-draw where born in the United States. But then again, that is just an opinion. Lets face it, "school age" kids often don't know what they are doing nor realize how their actions might affect their future. Then again, I think of how I felt, knowing that no matter how well I did in school or how hard I worked, I would continue to have limited options. Well, sometimes it seems as if there is not much to hope for.

Still, I (like many others) DID make it to a community college (as that was all I could afford). I graduated with Honours, both in High School and College. Today I continue my education in Canada, where I am now a citizen (the perks of falling in love with a Canadian). While in the states I WAS NOT handed any government grants or handouts because guess what? I was not eligible! Therefore, college money came out of my and my parent’s pocket--all ten-times the amount of regular tuition for not being a resident. By the way, I too paid taxes using my Mexican consular card (just in case you are wondering). A consular card is one that some U.S. state governments recognize as an alternative for a SS number for tax purposes and identification on certain forms. Aside from that, it is not accepted for any other purposes, and it shouldn’t. I was fine with that, just like the U.S Internal Revenue Service was fine with accepting taxes paid by my family and myself without getting any income tax or many social services in return.

My biggest deterrent was not the "Mexican culture." Culture is a thing that you can either draw good or bad from. If you are bright enough, you opt to choose and accentuate the positive. Besides, Nationalism at its core is not a pretty thing. No, my biggest deterrent was a piece of paper and a law that (regardless of what you might hear) right out excludes many from even entering the documentation process.

But yes, school was and continues to be important for many of us. It is important not just to gain some kind of economic stance but also to gain a philosophy of life. As for the English language, age and resources can be factors in how well one can learn a new language. Now you might say that is not much of an excuse. However let us consider that to this day I—with English as a second language—still find that I am often able to speak, write, and express myself better than many of those "native" to the United States. At the end of the day, we all could use more practice in "English language learning," in all languages for that matter. It's only beneficial. As for the Spanish labels in all the things "we drink and use," that is perhaps more attributed to living in a globalized and multicultural region. The U.S is not alone in printing labels in different languages. Side note: I find this complaint a bit comical coming from a resident of Arizona; a place where cities and streets often bear Spanish and Native American Names. The name “Arizona” itself is a mix of Spanish and Aztec. I mean it does say something about the soil that you walk on, doesn’t it? Just saying...

“Most of the girls are going to be knocked up by the time their 18"? (As I am copying and pasting your quote, I am noticing a little error, I think you meant "they're"?). In many cases, true, but then again we can’t hardly claim to have a  monopoly on that one. I mean just take a quick look at­ "Maury", “16 and Pregnant,” "Here comes Honey Booboo," and (just for fun) Sarah Palin's daughter. Granted those are sensationalized cases, you know, like stereotypes. Teenage pregnancy is not so much an ethnic problem as much as a lack of proper education when it comes to sex and contraception, and then there is economics and—I would even add—religion. Moving on…

As far as “guys” (or just people) not interested in a “real punch a clock type of work,” well I am sure some of them would wish they could have that choice. You see, as far as I can remember there were no punch clocks for when some of my family members and I were working—often after hours with no overtime. And lets not forget the occasional ‘stiffing’ on the paycheck and even the verbal humiliation. Nah! That just comes with the job sonny! We “pick cotton” for a reason (by the way it’s actually produce in the southwest, cotton is in the south). We took what we could get and made the best of it. Either way, why is picking produce or “cotton” a bad thing, considering you benefit from it? Is it going to pick itself???

Now, I am not trying to be exemplary here. I am far too flawed for that, not to mention that there are extraordinary cases out there. But I would just like to point out that it takes a certain kind of ignorance to continue to spew the “us and them” rhetoric, particularly one based on “othering”. You know, the kind that makes a person’s opinions somewhat deluded? Yours, being a perfect example of a mentality that suggests that for an individual or group different from you must prove to be better than most--perfect even--to gain your acceptance. Let’s face it we are all flawed, otherwise please elaborate how you are perfect.

In the 21st Century, we (North Americans) claim to be such an advanced society, perhaps technologically, but socially we are still inept and ignorant. Colonialist thinking continues to have root in our minds and hearts. Thankfully, we are still in a postmodern society (or is post-post modern?) where history is no longer just written by the "victor."

“All of this” is ALREADY (and has been for hundreds of years) IN YOUR AREA. You just have to come to terms with it. It’s good for your health, on the other hand anger, contempt, and fear is not. Good Luck, 

Adieux, adios and goodbye!

--The former ILLEGAL that “threatens" your way of life


@NenaCardenas-Novitsky @RonnieBaker  Nena!!! You just can't give it up. Still the same  as usual,looking for a free ride or handout. Its your culture. You learned it. Passed on from your Illegal Parents. So now you had to go up to Canada and find/marry a poor Pollock,gee I would have hoped,, he would have done more shopping????? (Polish surname. Novitsky) Trying to get back on the gravy train of Money for Nothing. We spent all that time and money on giving you a good education,but,you won't use it to help "your" country. OLD MEXICO. So your still the same. And you can't help it,because you don't really know your doing it. Typical Illegal Immigrant opinion. AND Short Fat,and BIG Butt.!!!!!!! Eat More Beans!!!!!!


@NenaCardenas-Novitsky @RonnieBaker 

Oh Nena,your so Silly. We spent all this Arizona Taxpayer money helping you learn English (4 hours a day here) and for what.???  You run off to another country just to get on their handout roles. A taker etc.

You are really a typical border crosser. Come here to America,but not for America.

Anyway,its warm and Sunny here in Arizona,were wearing t shirts and shorts. Just lovely. By now up there in the COLD North,your  real  pale  like you're not well.

And for you insults about my small brain???? My mother always called me SUN! She musta thought I was kinda bright.

In the BIG Picture. Eating all those BEANS. They're not helping you that much  There just giving you GAS.

You need to add some PRUNES ( a lot of them) to your morning snacks.

Maybe this would relieve you somewhat?????? 


@RonnieBaker @NenaCardenas-NovitskyWow, you actually responded. I had forgotten about this. Ahhh you poor little man. This is more sad than I thought. Typical response of a small minded man. It sounds like you are missing something dearly in your life? Perhaps one day you will learn to not let your insecurities carry over to your views of other people. I love beans, always will. The idea that I would take offence for liking a delicious and nutritious legume is hilarious, but your small brain would have a hard time trying to grasp that, no? You know it would be so easy for me to hurl insults like you do, but that would mean my brain has stopped working and no longer have valid things to say.

I'm going to leave at it here because, as Mark Twain says, “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”    

Being an atheist, I cannot recommend God to bless you. However I do hope life treats you better than you have treated others, it sound like you need it. Good day! :)

DanielGenseric 1 Like


Everybody says there is a problem called White Privilege. Everybody says this White Privilege problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.

The Netherlands and Belgium are just as crowded as Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve Asian Privilege by bringing in millions of third worlders and quote assimilating unquote with them.

Everybody says the final solution to this White Privilege problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.

What if I said there was this problem called Black Privilege and this Black Privilege would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?

How long would it take anyone to realize I’m not talking about a Black Privilege problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?

And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn’t object to this?

But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.

Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.


@DanielGenseric bro you are freaking stupid, one college spot wasted on you that could go to one of those bright illegal immigrants.


You have never heard anybody talk about a race problem?

You have never heard White people condemned being told to accept multiculturalism and assimilate immigrants?

You have never heard anybody insist on open borders in ALL & ONLY White countries?

You have never heard anybody say the Final Solution to racism is "mixing THE races"? When they mean only mixing races in White countries?

Anti-racist is a codeword for anti-White.


I wonder if there is some way we can get the countries from which the unauthorized flee - and I think flee is the appropriate term - to pay for some of the costs to help? It seems to me that, from the perspective of tort law, the leadership of those countries is at fault, not-withstanding past transgressions of our own against some of those countries. Couldn't our government file a lawsuit to find out?


@ErikKengaardWhere do you think all your food and cheap goods come from Erik? Do you ever stop to consider that many things that you enjoy in your life sometimes come from the exploitation of land and resources of other countries? Just look at cases like Monsanto, Industrialized monocultures (both farm and forests), fuel, and mineral extraction. Do you think our industrialized countries get it all fair and square? Even if we do pay a price, it is very little compared to the environmental and social impact we have in other places that are not "our own" (as if they ever are).  In life, and especially in a finite planet, there is always a balancing act where in order for some to HAVE, others (many actually) end up with very little. Think of this the next time you eat a banana or play with your phone and know that we are all implicated  in one way or another. Just consider yourself lucky and call it a day