On The Outskirts of Society
When does the choice of another have detrimental outcomes to the innocent? When do uncontrollable circumstances take away every personal right? When can one go through the public educational system, receive a degree, and then be prevented from contributing to their society? The answer is simple and disheartening: when the individual is a child brought to America illegally. Immigration is a controversial political subject which neglects mentioning children of illegal immigrants despite the severity of the problem. The inability to pass any sort of comprehensive immigration reform is taking a toll on a large population in America which is just reaching adult-hood. Perhaps comprehensive immigration reform is not the answer needed immediately, but there exists a bill which has been forestalled that can help these innocent children earn citizenship legally. It is called the DREAM Act, and until it passes illegal children will suffer a life of fear, hardship, and inferiority. The social inequalities suffered by undocumented children must be addressed and solved through the passing of effective reformation bills in Congress.
To be illegal has always been referenced as a choice for the persons who hold the title. Child immigrants hold a special place in society due to this negative adjective associated with their status. This creates subjective intolerance which demeans the self-worth and aspirations the child may accrue while living in America. Unfortunately, the outcome of such denigration affects the society as a whole on many levels. Take, for instance, the complaint many Americans denote when arguing about illegal immigration which claims the illegal immigrants steal jobs away from natural born citizens. This very statement is causing a two-fold effect on children coming to America. The first is clearly engendering an attitude towards all illegal individuals that they should not be seeking out jobs that American’s desire. This then forces their search to mediocre work (in comparison to what ‘citizens’ should desire) and opens up opportunities in the janitorial, fast-food, and manual labor fields. As an assumption, Americans, who are instilled with the desire to always work upwards toward a better position in life, would never desire these types of work. The second effect directly influences many immigrant children to believe they cannot aspire to anything more than what their parents achieved: manual labor, fast-food work, and/or janitorial employment (as examples). As Thomas Faist points out, “Ethnicity is one of the markers that are often used to slot migrants into certain occupational niches . . . [which then creates] a basis of self-ethnicization [or self-engendering as a way of] typifying themselves as belonging to a particular group” (308). This very concept of self-engendering positions is not solely America’s downfall in social graces, but is a common practice in many Western civilizations.
Germany’s school system is possibly one of the most affective at determining a person’s place in society. This has also caused the German school system to be known as one of the worst systems in regard to immigrant children, and not specifically illegal immigrant children either (Entorf 642). At the age of ten, students are subjected to a test which determines which school a child will go to. The test is administered in German and spans a wide range of fields: science, mathematics, language comprehension, literature, etc. Now imagine immigrating (moving) to another country with your parents and shortly after arriving, having very little time to learn the language properly and assimilate to the educational standards of the school system, a test is given which will determine your place in society. Based on the test scores, the only option available is attending the school which prepares children for manual labor. Is this fair? Is it just to treat citizens who have legally immigrated to the host country in such a manner? Upon further reflection, is it right to even administer such a test to a child of manual labor parents, who were not given a highly advanced level of education because of a test they did poorly on when they were ten years old, who does not have the ability to learn advanced material from their caretakers? Understandably, Germany has a different view towards a life’s position than America does; for they take pride in the work they do as appose to feeling like there is something better to achieve. American standards would never allow this sort of system to affect its children, would it?
The answer is yes, America would and does allow such a test to exist, though few believe it is in existence. 1982 saw a distinct change in the attitude toward undocumented children in the Plyler v. Doe case which the Supreme Court ruled that “undocumented children are ‘persons’ under the Constitution and thus entitled to equal protection under the law according to the 14th amendment” (Gonzales 421). Furthermore, Justice Brennan declared that “while education is not a fundamental right, denying K-12 education to undocumented children amounted to creating a ‘lifetime of hardship’ and a permanent ‘underclass’ of individuals” (Gonzales 421). It was very clear that the Supreme Court saw the inequalities upheld by the denotation of a child as illegal in America, but the statute of the 14th Amendment, in essence, gives children of illegal immigrants the coveted rights of naturalized or native citizens. However, the provision only adheres to underage individuals, and when they turn eighteen the rights are demolished because of decisions made many years prior by their caretakers (Gonzales 421). The test then becomes about how well the child can hide his status from the institutions he wishes to attend. This is where the contradiction comes into play: a child who has been given rights and a free education through secondary schools is then thrust into society with a status that makes his very existence a federal crime.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act can solve this issue and amend the huge oxymoron the United States of America bestows upon an innocent group of people. As it stands, illegal immigrant children are said to have the highest drop out rate of any minority attending high schools in America. Much of the reason behind this is the lack of opportunity once they have graduated. It is better for them to find a job and work hard to secure a minimum standard of living to help support their family. Most of these children do not attempt to get their citizenship status to be legal. The DREAM Act will undoubtedly inspire these individuals by allowing children two options to obtain citizenship legally. One option means further schooling, allotting five years to earn a Bachelors and then enter the workforce. The other option is to go into the military for two years and then apply for citizenship once returning from active duty (“Welcome”). Both of these options allow an individual to prove their merit (Gonzales 421) and therefore strengthen many aspects of America. Such a bill needs to pass through Congress and be enforced immediately. Perhaps comprehensive immigration reform is not a solution feasible in the immediate climate, but the political leaders of a society which appreciates social advancement, equality and the American dream need to protect people whose choices were never considered when subjected to a life of hardship and social inequalities.
It is not enough to simply look at the social issues surrounding undocumented children. Action must be taken to stave off further social inequalities born from misconceptions surrounding this group of innocent individuals. Treating children of illegal immigrants as fugitives of the law or criminals is unfair to their circumstances. Furthermore, if these children decide to live in the United States of America after receiving a free education, it is imperative that they not impede any facet of American society. They should be allowed to contribute financially and socially with their taxes and votes. Government officials need to pass some sort of immigration reform and it is up to their constituents to push them to vote for reform; and if they cannot compromise on any sort of Comprehensive Immigration Reform then their focus must shift to the undocumented children of illegal immigrants. The DREAM Act is a short term solution to the complicated immigration issue.
Entorf, Horst, and Martina Lauk. "Peer Effects, Social Multipliers and Migrants at School: An International Comparison." Journal of Ethnic & Migration Studies 34.4 (2008): 633-654. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.
Faist, Thomas. "Cultural Diversity and Social Inequalities." Social Research 77.1 (2010): 297-324. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.
Gonzales, Roberto. "On the Rights of Undocumented Children." Society 46.5 (2009): 419-422. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.
“Welcome to the DREAM Act Portal.” DREAM Act Portal. Web. 18 Oct. 2010.