Study says college doesn’t help career prospects of unauthorized immigrants

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout

A new study out of the University of Chicago has found that illegal immigrants who attend college find their career paths obstructed by their immigration status and end up with the same kinds of jobs available to their parents.

California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law a state-level Dream Act to allow illegal immigrants to compete with other students for private scholarships to attend college. (A second bill that has yet to pass would allow illegal immigrants to apply for public scholarships, as well.)

But as education writer Joanne Jacobs points out, this study's results suggest that without federal immigration reform, a college education doesn't much help young undocumented people to join the professional world.

University of Chicago Sociology Professor Roberto Gonzalez interviewed 150 young people for the study. He found that 22 of the respondents had graduated from a four-year college--and out of that sample, not one was pursuing his or her chosen career path. One respondent, named Esperanza, took a factory job after getting her bachelor's degree. Others ended up in the service sector, working as maids or restaurant employees.

The study also examined the rude awakening that young workers faced when they learned they weren't legal residents of the United States, after they'd grown up believing they were. One 22-year-old respondent, Cory, said she was furious when she found out that her family lacked documentation.

"They thought that by the time I graduated I would have my green card. But they didn't stop to think that this is my life," she said. "Everything I believed in was a big lie. Santa Claus was not coming down the chimney, and I wasn't going to just become legal. I really resented them."

Because the Supreme Court has ruled that every child has a right to K-12 education, regardless of immigration status, most young undocumented immigrants grow up integrated into American society in the public school system. Once those young people graduate high school, they are completely unprepared that they cannot legally work, drive or vote in most states, the study says.

A federal Dream Act that would offer legal status to young people who go to college or join the military failed in the Senate in December. Opponents argued the measure would serve to attract more illegal immigration to the United States.