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Jul. 10 2010 - 12:26 am | 200 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

What should happen to college kids who are illegal immigrants?

In recent weeks, debate has heated up around the issue of immigration–from proposed legislation in Arizona to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants who are born on U.S. soil, to a small Nebraska town voting to approve a ban on hiring or renting property to illegal immigrants, to well-reasoned ideas about how to help recent immigrants integrate into American society. And, of course, there is the partisan rancor over comprehensive immigration reform, as well as over Arizona’s new law concerning illegal immigration.

But what I find most interesting is the issue of students who are illegal immigrants. Recent stories in the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, and Boston Globe have focused on this group of children–brought to the United States by their parents, successfully integrating into American society, in part through attending grade school and/or high school here, and preparing for, attending, or graduating from college.

Below is an interview with Eric Balderas, the nearly-deported Harvard student who was profiled in the Boston Globe story mentioned above:

So, what should be done about children who are here illegally but want to take advantage of America’s higher education system? Call me simplistic, but I don’t think you can blame–or punish–kids for their parents’ actions. Imagine that an eight-year-old child is taken by his parents across the border illegally, a thousand miles away from the place where he grew up, and then spends the next ten years of his life living in North Carolina. He attends school, learns English, makes friends, and eventually graduates near the top of his high school class. Is it fair to prevent him from attending the country’s colleges and universities, or to withhold financial aid from that student? We need talented, driven people to become leaders and innovators in our country, and we cannot afford to turn away young people who have those qualities just because their parents made an illegal decision.


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    Mr. Salmonowicz,

    By way of full disclosure, my teaches at a local State University and one of her students was in this exact spot. She had graduated at the top of her class in high, scored well on the SATs, and was accepted to a number of highly regarded schools. However she was unable to attend any of them because as she discovered to her chagrin, she was not in this country legally. Her parents had brought her across illegally when she was small and she had had no idea of this until it became an issue with matriculation. She is now working her way through the State University which, while nowhere near as prestigeous as the schools that had first been willing to addmit her, is giving her a very good education.

    There are literally tens of thousands of people like this young woman attending community colleges and state universities where no one checks citizenship status. The question is, what is the problem? Obviously it is a problem for the illegal immigrants themselves, their choices of universities is narrowed. However as far as I can tell, no one else is harmed. So why not a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

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    About Me

    I'm a Teach For America alum and spent three years as a high school teacher on the west and south sides of Chicago. I've conducted research on turnaround schools with a team from the University of Virginia, consulted for school districts across the country, and done work with New Leaders for New Schools, the Consortium on Chicago School Research, and DonorsChoose.org. Currently I'm finishing my PhD from UVa's Curry School of Education.

    My work has been published in Education Week, the Phi Delta Kappan, and a number of academic journals, and I'm a co-author of the book Teachers' Guide to School Turnarounds. I also contribute monthly to GOOD, the website "for people who give a damn": www.good.is/community/MichaelSalmonowicz

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    I am a contributor for GOOD, the website “for people who give a damn.” You can read my June column here. Past columns can be found here.