It is likely that undocumented immigrant students were among those graduating from central Ohio high schools in the past few weeks.
But often, their peers don’t know their status, and what’s next for them isn’t as flush with opportunity as it is for their friends who were born in the United States or have legal immigration status here.
“Legally, they’re in a holding pattern,” said Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University in southwestern Ohio. “Until something gets resolved legislatively, there’s not really options for them.”
A recent study by the Migration Policy Institute estimated that almost 100,000 undocumented immigrants will graduate from U.S. high schools annually for the next several years, but no one knows what comes next for them.
Some find opportunity and funding to attend colleges. Others might work jobs under the table for cash, Smith said. And still others might have better luck seeking options in other states, such as border states or those with high numbers of immigrant residents.
For almost 20 years, Congress and presidents have been trying to find a solution for what happens to these students who were brought to the United States illegally when they were minors. The efforts have largely been to no avail.
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This year’s graduates are the second class without the protections of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that then-President Barack Obama put in place with a 2012 executive order, said Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a bipartisan, nonprofit group that released the report in April.
After President Donald Trump took office in 2017, he tussled with the courts over DACA and in September of that year ended the program, which had allowed almost 700,000 young people who were in the country illegally to work and go to school for two years without fear of deportation. Lower courts have since blocked his move. The administration’s appeals of those rulings have been pending since November, but the U.S. Supreme Court has taken no action on them.
The Migration Policy Institute decided to study the issue because there weren’t recent estimates on the number of undocumented students graduating from U.S. high schools each year, Batalova said.
The most recent estimate was based on data from the early 2000s, she said, and it put the number around 65,000.
“We know a lot has changed with the flow of immigration,” Batalova said. “From a demographic viewpoint, there were multiple reasons to update. … There were also policy imperatives.”
Last week, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019. Even if it wins passage in the Republican-controlled Senate, which is unlikely, it would need the signature of Trump, who has sought to end these programs, Smith said.
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The House-approved bill would protect from deportation immigrants who entered the country illegally as children, often called “Dreamers,” and allow them to have permanent residency for 10 years, with certain conditions.
About 20 states have passed in-state college-tuition laws for graduates without legal immigration status, according to the report. Ohio is not among them, although it has fewer undocumented students than many other similarly populous states, the report said.
California, Texas, Florida and New York have the most undocumented students graduating in a year, according to the study. California has an estimated 27,000, Texas about 17,000, Florida about 5,000 and New York about 4,000. Ohio has fewer than 1,000, Batalova said.
To qualify for in-state tuition in Ohio, noncitizens must have been granted the status of a permanent or temporary resident by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Kevin Holtsberry, a spokesman with the Ohio Department of Higher Education.
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Depending on the school, students might be charged out-of-state tuition or international student rates, said Lilleana Cavanaugh, executive director of the Ohio Latino Affairs Commission.
Batalova said the debate over the future of Dreamers has become more interesting since the Trump administration rolled out a “merit-based” immigration proposal last month. Under that plan, the younger and more educated an immigration applicant is, the more likely he or she is to be approved for entry into the country. Points also would be added for having a “valuable skill, an offer of employment, an advanced education or a plan to create jobs.”
“As education becomes more important for the economic and social success of American workers, I think that rose as an important criteria and important incentive to keep students without legal status in schools,” Batalova said.