In the United States, around 1.4% of students in kindergarten to high school are considered undocumented. Often, the children come to the U.S. when they were young and their parents were undocumented. At the moment, 1.4% means around 1 million children are in the U.S. illegally. Many of these individuals were raised in the United States, speak English, and are trying to become productive members of society.
In New York State though, the State Education Department voted to allow qualifying individuals to receive certifications and licenses for professions in education despite unauthorized immigrant status. This is a great step forward to helping the young and growing population, but it brings a lot of unresolved issues into the light.
What is the situation that undocumented immigrants face? Who benefits from the State Education Department’s decision? Why is this so important in the first place?
When There is No Place To Call “Home”
Under the current immigration law, there are 4.4 million undocumented immigrants. These young individuals who grew up and lived in the United States, unfamiliar with their country of origin, may be forced to return to a country they know nothing about.
These young individuals were brought to the U.S. when they were children. They did not have a choice whether to come to the U.S. or stay in their family’s home country. Now, they live in a country that wishes to deport them to a country that they never considered to be their home.
Along with isolation and fear of deportation, they do not have a right to work and cannot receive welfare or food stamps. The decision from the State Education Department can be a real step forward to help them gain valid employment and become U.S. citizens.
But the Number of People that Benefit From the Decision is Limited
To benefit from the State Education Department’s new policy, all applicants need to qualify under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (“DACA”). Individuals need to apply for DACA and must fulfill the following requirements:
- come to the United States before their 16th birthday
- be under the age of 31 with no valid immigration status on June 15, 2012
- lived continuously in the United States between Jun 15, 2007 to present time
- currently enrolled in school, graduated from high school, obtained GED, or were honorably discharged from the military
- no felony or significant convictions, or three or more misdemeanor convictions, and poses no threat to national security or public safety.
Due to the nature of illegal immigration, it is not clear how many people fall under this category. But, as of 2012, the U.S. government estimates that there are 11.4 million illegal immigrants in the nation. Of the 11.4 million illegal immigrants, only 1 million of them are children and even then, not all will be able to apply for DACA.
A Limited Number Will Benefit from the New Policy, So Why is this So Important?
Right now, immigrants in the U.S. face many struggles to join and integrate into society. But it is far more difficult for illegal immigrants who fear detention or deportation at any moment. They face the options of deportation or accepting a job that may pay less than minimum wage.
As the number of illegal immigrants raised in the United States grows, Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minorities Act (“DREAM Act”) have been enacted throughout various states. But even then, Acts like the one in California only offer illegal immigrant students a chance to apply for financial aid. It does not give them a path to apply for citizenship.
The reality is that there is no clear, guaranteed way for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship. They may marry a U.S. citizen, they may be sponsored by their employer, or they may apply for asylum/refugee status. In each case, the government will track and regulate those paths to citizenship. It may put relatives that cannot pursue those paths in danger of detention or deportation.
In 2015 alone, 96,519 individuals with no criminal ties were deported. The number may seem high, but in fact 2015 was the lowest year of deportations since 2008. Families were separated, with many U.S. born children forced to follow or say good-bye to their parents and older siblings. The State Education Department’s decision to allow qualified individuals to apply for professional license and certification gives young immigrants a chance to find legal employment. It will give these individuals a chance to become citizens of our nation and forge a path for those that will follow.
Authored by Janice Lim, LegalMatch Legal Writer