Posted: Sep 27, 2016 by Catherine Burke Last night, the two presidential candidates debated, not only face-to-face, but, more importantly, in front of millions of viewers here in the U.S. and around the world – in front of you and me. They debated many topics, some important and some not so much. But one very important, urgent even, issue they failed to address was the status of undocumented students living here in the United States, students whose lives are in limbo and who need answers.
Imagine all the late nights spent studying for tests, all your hard earned A’s, and the endless homework assignments you’ve completed in order to gain admission to the college of your choice. Imagine the moment you get accepted, when the long hours of hard work pay off. Now imagine being told you cannot go to college using in-state tuition simply because you were not born in the United States. This happens everyday to thousands of undocumented students around the country. And it does not matter how long a child has been in the United States, or that they proudly consider themselves to be Americans.
I cannot imagine what it must feel like to discover that you cannot go to college and take advantage of in-state tuition, to see all your friends follow their dreams knowing that when the next school year starts, you won’t be there with them.
Many undocumented students have lived in the United States their whole lives and identify as American. These students feel more comfortable speaking English than their native language. They also feel more at home in the U.S. than they do in their native countries. For example, one student, Lilly, an undocumented immigrant, was on the path to becoming a doctor. She attended her local community college for one year until she was forced to drop out because her family could no longer afford the full tuition. Lily was denied in-state tuition just because she was not born in the U.S. Even with Lily’s mother working extra shifts and her whole family pooling their money, Lily’s dream of becoming a doctor was over. Lily wanted to becoming a neonatologist, a doctor who cares for newborns. Lilly said “I’m 22 years old. I’ve been here all of my life. My friends are here. My life is here, I love the U.S. more than anything.”
These students deserve the opportunity to receive the college education they have been working towards. Significantly, they have often already received 12 years of education funded by our taxpayer money. If these students do not go to college, taxpayer money and their previous education will be wasted. The benefit to these students and society is enormous and cannot be overestimated. Given the chance, many of these students will pursue careers as doctors, engineers, scientists, writers, and teachers.
And so, I dedicate this post to the moderator of the next debate. Please ask the candidates how they will help these undocumented students, some of whom have served in our military, continue their future, achieve their dreams, and go to college. And if you are not moved by the sheer importance of higher education alone, please advise the candidates to consider the many practical reasons these students should be allowed to benefit from in-state tuition. Without the opportunity to pursue higher education, their dreams are lost and taxpayer money is wasted.