It’s one thing for the Obama administration’s sweeping new deferred-action program to start today, affecting up to 1.7 million undocumented immigrants; it’s quite another to think that qualified youth under 30 who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 will find it easy to stay for additional schooling or for work.
(RELATED: ‘Dream Act’ Deferrals Could Top 1.7 Million.)
A key requirement to qualify for a two-year work permit that grants a reprieve from deportation is a high school diploma or GED certificate. Given that as many as 350,000 lack such credentials, advocates, educators, and other stakeholders have begun to focus on ways to overcome obstacles to further education.
The Homeland Security Department's guidelines say that youths without a high school diploma or GED would be eligible to apply if they enrolled in school before Aug. 15. While it’s too early to tell just how many students nationwide have rushed to sign up for classes or GED programs, some schools are girding for an influx.
“It’s to be expected that a significant number of people will come back to adult education for their GEDs, and that other young people may be encouraged to continue their education through community-college programs in the hopes that this [immigration policy] could lead to something more akin to the Dream Act,” said Margie McHugh, codirector of the MPI’s National Center on Immigration Integration Policy.
Currently, think-tank researchers are collecting GED data state by state, examining administration procedures, quality of instruction, and general requirements, because programs can vary greatly.
Another obstacle is as simple as ID. Registering for a GED exam requires official identification, which some young people may not have. New Jersey expects two forms of government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, and a second form of identification that verifies the first, such as a car registration or vehicle insurance, according to the website.
In Arizona, illegal immigrants don’t qualify for free prep classes for a GED diploma offered through adult-education programs or in-state tuition, which will likely make it more challenging for young immigrants there to prepare for and pass the exams.
There are also cost issues for those who plan to get a college education and don’t qualify for in-state tuition.
“Accessibility and affordability—all of these old questions will come into play,” McHugh said.
For instance, Chihuahua native Cynthia Moreno, 18, graduated from a Phoenix high school this year and hopes to go to an Arizona college to study to become a business owner. However, since Arizona requires undocumented immigrants to pay nonresident tuition costs, neither she nor her family can afford the $12,000 per semester at Arizona State University, for instance. Nonstate tuition for community colleges in Maricopa County, where her family resides, costs $300 per credit, or $4,500 for a full credit load each term.
For some of the 350,000 young immigrants who left school without obtaining their diploma or GED certificate, returning to school after a long absence will also bring challenges. “Very often, they are working and helping support their family,” McHugh said. “These nontraditional students are therefore more likely to need evening classes that will fit into their work schedule.”
About 5 percent (80,000) of the 1.7 million immigrants who would benefit from deferred action already have college degrees. Of those, 48 percent have an associate’s degree,44 percent have a bachelor’s degree, and 8 percent have advanced degrees, according to analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank.