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Children Of Illegal Aliens - What Happens After High School?

Jan 26, 2008
Many US teens are finding their legal status isn't what they thought it was.

The issue of illegal immigration has reached a fever pitch in the media and in the country as a whole. But what about those who are caught in the cross-hairs and didn't even know it?

Economists at Bear Stearns, a leading Wall Street firm, tell us there are almost 20 million undocumented people living in the United States. Many of those people are school-aged kids who came here with their families through no fault of their own.

Angel, a 17 year old senior at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, CA, came here from Guatemala at the age of 4. Twelve years later, he realized he was undocumented. "I was going to get this job so I needed my Social Security number," he explains. "My mom said I didn't have one. It was crazy- I've been here most of my life."

He's not alone. According to a recent article by Anne Ryman of The Arizona Republic, nearly 4,000 college students in Arizona were denied in-state tuition because they failed to prove legal residency. Like Angel, many teenagers who have been in the US for most of their lives are suddenly finding it difficult to stay in the country they call "home".

"It's like, I'm glad [my parents] brought me here, but I don't know what I'm going to do later," says Angel.

The Pressure Is On

More than 185,431 people were deported from the US last year, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Arizona, Oklahoma, and Utah have passed new legislation that will make it tougher for undocumented immigrants to live and work in those states. Immigration law has become a hot-button issue for politicians throughout the country.

There Is Hope

While it can seem overwhelming, the US does offer several paths to legal residency. Under the right circumstances, even so-called "illegal aliens" can legally obtain a Visa or Green Card. The good news for teenagers is: as long as they are under the age of 18, the government does not hold their undocumented status against them. There are options available to these children - but the quicker they act, the easier it will be for them to get legal status. Adults over 18 may also have a good chance, especially those who have at least one family member who is already an America Citizen. Hardship Waivers, which can allow an undocumented immigrant to stay avoid deportation, are approved by immigration officials surprisingly often.

Learning the in's and out's of US Immigration law can be complicated, but successfully navigating through them is the best chance for staying in the US for undocumented teens. Government websites and resources are not very helpful in the regard, however. The vast majority of information readily available is written for a typical immigrant who has gone through the immigration process correctly from the beginning. Policy exceptions do exist, but up until now, these legal loopholes have been reserved for those immigrants that can afford legal counsel. Poorer immigrants who lack financial resources often overlook avenues that would otherwise be available to them.

As American citizens hotly debate immigration reform, immigrants should know that there are currently legal solutions available under existing laws. The time to take advantage of those solutions is now, before the laws become tougher and more complex than they already are.
About the Author
David Larsen is an immigration researcher, activist, and author of "Real Immigration Solutions." You can learn more at his website: RealImmigrationSolutions.com
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