According to statistics, there are roughly 5 million undocumented children and young adults currently living in the U.S., with about twenty-four percent of those living in California alone. But as in all other states, these young people are severely limited in their opportunities and in their ability to contribute fully to U.S. society no matter how much they excel academically or how involved they are civically. Youth in California disproportionally experience economic and personal hardships, according to a new research brief by Veronica Terriquez. The report, titled “Aspiring Americans: Undocumented Youth Leaders in California,” is based on data that compares the experiences of 410 undocumented youth leaders to that of other individuals of the same age who are American-born. The report, published by the University of Southern California’s Center for the study of Immigrant Integration and UCA/Accord, shows that 84% of these undocumented individuals came to this county before they were 12 years old; that they are twice or even three times more civically engaged in their communities and volunteer activities than their American counterparts; and they also reported having much more difficulty paying for school (91%) and utilities (68%) than low-income Americans.
Because of this disproportionate hardship, the state of California passed a DREAM Act-type of law to give undocumented individuals who are resident’s of the state the privilege of paying in-state tuition, a benefit that is rightfully theirs but that they were barred from getting because they didn’t have their immigration papers in order. For a long time these hard working young adults were forcibly excluded from society for what should be an otherwise irrelevant issue. And while this issue has been slightly averted in California, undocumented individuals still face this burden all over the United States, particularly in states where they are made unwelcome by xenophobic attitudes towards their presence. It would all be so much better if every state institutionalized access to in-state tuition along with offering scholarships and financial aid. While the Obama administration has lately provided a bit of relief by instituting the deferred action program for immigrant youth, this is simply not enough. While these fixes are necessary, they are only a start. All they do is offer short-term relief to entrenched problems; that is why much more is needed to be done for a lasting fix.
As the research concluded: “The future of California—and indeed our country—depends on making education, legal employment, and citizenship accessible for all young people who grow up in the Untied States. Undocumented youth who make a difference in their communities and seek economic success are truly aspiring Americans and deserve to be legally recognized as such.”