Many high school and college grads face a tough rode ahead, given high unemployment and record levels of student debt. But the future is especially bleak for undocumented students graduating from high school, the so called Dreamers, in reference to the DREAM Act, a bill stalled in Congress for close to eleven years that would allow this population to regularize their status and access a path to citizenship if they meet certain conditions.
Though the great majority of the Dreamers, a population estimated at 2.1 million people, have resided and attended school in this country and thus are Americans in almost all non-legal respects, they have few opportunities. The majority come from disadvantaged backgrounds, which means that few of them would be able to consider going to college, as they will likely be forced to look for menial jobs, to help their families survive in the U.S., and also probably to support their families left behind in their countries of origin. It is estimated that only 38 percent of all undocumented high school graduates or 825,000 people, would actually apply and obtain benefits from the DREAM Act, if it ever is implemented.
For those who would, the road ahead is very bumpy. Many undocumented high school graduates do not have access to in-state tuition at public institutions of higher education, since this was prohibited by Federal law in 1996. If they want to go to college they have to pay full tuition, which for the majority of them is almost impossible considering that they are very likely to be poor. For those who do, if they happen to live in states that have passed their own Dream Act laws circumventing the 1996 Federal legislation (Texas, California, New York, Utah, Illinois, Washington, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Maryland for community colleges), they still would not qualify for any other form of financial aid, since most scholarships, private or public, require the student to be a U.S. citizen, or a legal resident or have at least a Social Security number. They would probably not qualify for college loans, either, as expensive as access to them has become. One of their few options would be to benefit from some kind of scholarship supported by private sector entrepreneurs that have geared some of their money devoted to charity to support this population. But there are still not a lot of those scholarships.
If they are still able to overcome all of these obstacles and still graduate from college -- and some of them do with lots of effort and discipline -- they will have a hard time ever integrating into the formal economy because they are not allowed to work legally in this country. This is aside from the already daunting job market scenario that many college graduates in the U.S. already face regardless of legal status. Their only hope is to wait for the DREAM Act, or any other kind of immigration reform with a path to citizenship ever to pass. Since this will not happen any time soon, considering the current levels of opposition in Congress to any kind of reform with a path of citizenship, by then, they probably will have lost many years of gaining experience in the labor market, which in turn will mean that they will have a hard a time ever breaking into the American middle class. This is a very bleak scenario, indeed.