Young People Need a Dream

I met Juan at a fast food restaurant. Impressed with his friendliness and quick service, I introduced myself. We became familiar as I continued to patronize the restaurant; and Juan agreed, one day, to sit down to tell me his story. Juan is twenty-five years old and undocumented. He came to Colorado from Mexico in 1998 with his parents and two brothers. Juan’s parents were anxious to get their children out of Mexico, where the drug trade was becoming increasingly obvious in their daily lives. Juan is now working full-time at the fast food restaurant and, on weekends, volunteers as a youth minister. He hopes, someday, to go to college and to do missionary work with his wife.

Sonja, too, is undocumented. Like Juan, she wants to go to college. Now eighteen, Sonia has been in the United States since age three and, this year, graduated from a Colorado high school with high honors. She dreams of being a doctor or a lawyer but was recently urged by her father to “tone down” those dreams. He cannot imagine ever being able to pay the required non-resident tuition for her college education.

In April, 2009, the Colorado legislature considered, and rejected, a bill that would have dramatically changed the lives of Juan and Sonja and others by offering resident tuition to undocumented students, rather than requiring them to pay non-resident tuition. Tuition for non-residents is approximately four times greater than resident tuition. A cost-benefit analysis of the legislation leaves me scratching my head over the reason for its defeat.

What would the costs of such legislation be? The legislature considered the fiscal impact and determined that state colleges would generate increased revenue by enacting the legislation. Opponents argued that the legislation would encourage an influx of undocumented families looking for a state in which college tuition is reasonable. Speaking from experience as an immigration attorney, I know that most undocumented families come to the United States in order to survive – not to find reasonable college tuition. Opponents say it makes no sense to reward families that broke the law when they entered this country. But should these talented children, who had nothing to do with the decision to come to the United States, suffer because of their parents’ decisions? Benefits of the legislation are obvious – a larger population of college-educated young adults and high school students who realize that their goal of higher education in the United States is attainable. Such a shift in the outlook of those students may well translate to a lower high school dropout rate.

The next time this legislation surfaces, please consider it and tell your legislators what you think of it. Eligibility for resident tuition would have a huge impact on the lives of undocumented students. The subject deserves more than the knee-jerk negative reaction usually received by any topic involving illegal immigration.

This article should not be relied upon as legal advice. Consult an immigration attorney for advice specific to your situation.