By Steven Cruz
Roughly 2.5 million undocumented young people live in the United States, and every year approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools. Many were brought to the United States as young children, unaware they were breaking the law. Yet without changes to our immigration policies, their futures appear bleak.
Without legal status, these graduates are unable to apply for federal loans or grants to pay for college. This makes it nearly impossible for most to attend college.
Currently, only about 5 to 10 percent of undocumented immigrants pursue higher education. This is a clear problem: Studies show that individuals with college degrees earn higher wages, are less likely to experience long periods of unemployment and are less likely to rely on social services.
In lieu of college, many will look for work in order to earn enough income to sustain themselves and their families. But again, without legal status these recent grads are forced to look for under-the-table employment – jobs that are insecure and often exploitive.
Preventing these young people from participating meaningfully in the economy robs them of economic security and businesses of hardworking, innovative employees. There’s a broad consensus among both left- and right-leaning economists that immigrants aren’t taking away jobs from Americans.
Immigration is overwhelmingly positive for the United States. It not only offers individuals from economically depressed countries the prospect of a brighter future, but also has a positive effect on native-born students and employees.
A 2012 study in the National Bureau of Economic Research found that increasing the percentage of immigrants in a high school class increases the probability that native-born students, especially black students, will graduate from high school. And a 2010 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco suggests that immigrant workers may boost productivity and stimulate investment among their native counterparts.
Passage of the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill would offer the 65,000 undocumented students graduating each year an opportunity to be fully contributing members of society. It would allow immigrants to be more productive. It would also allow students to apply for financial aid to attend college and fill the growing need for educated workers.
The United States is and always has been a nation of immigrants. It’s time for Congress to finally end the reform stalemate and offer all members of this year’s high school graduating class the same opportunities to pursue the American Dream.
Steven Cruz is the press associate at the LIBRE Initiative, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advances economic freedom in the Hispanic community.