Undocumented College Students Worry About Job Opportunities
More than 200 undocumented college students are attending college at in-state tuition rates in Oklahoma, but many fear they will be unable to find work when they graduate.
While states can help undocumented students go to college, it will take an act of Congress to let them work legally. And an increasingly vocal anti-immigration lobby will fight to keep that from happening.
The Oklahoma Legislature passed a law in 2003 that allows noncitizens to qualify for in-state tuition, scholarships and financial aid.
“The fact is, they are still undocumented,” says Armando Pena, director for student and community outreach activities for the State Regents for Higher Education. “To be frank, I think it was not fully considered.”
When Antonio Martinez enrolled at Oklahoma Panhandle State University two years ago on an art scholarship, it looked like his problems were over.
Now, as he begins his junior year, the 21-year-old Mexican immigrant wonders what will happen if he doesn’t have permanent residency when he graduates in May 2007. He wants to find a job as a graphics designer but fears employers might shun him — even though he has temporary residency and a work permit, which he must renew annually.
“That goes through my mind,” Martinez says. “I guess I would have to put [plans] on hold.”
The bill’s author, Sen. Keith C. Leftwich, died after the law was enacted. But his widow, who succeeded him, said they expected students to be able to get jobs.
“Why invest all that time and money if we can’t help them complete their education and get a job?” asks Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City.
Rep. Al Lindley, D-Oklahoma City, says lawmakers assumed undocumented students would be able to legalize their immigration status while in college. The bill requires them to apply as soon as they are eligible.
But Martinez, like many others, is caught in a backlog. He applied for permanent residency six years ago.
Because of quotas, it typically takes Mexicans 13 years to get permanent residency and another five years to qualify for citizenship, says Teri Mora, director of Hispanic Student Services at Panhandle State.
There was little organized opposition when Oklahoma passed its tuition law. Carol Helms, who organized a group called Immigration Reform for Oklahoma Now, regrets that fact.
“If we’d been here, we would have opposed it,” says Helms. Her organization started with 15 members last year. Now it has a mailing list of 500.
“The taxpayer here in Oklahoma is paying for that illegal alien’s subsidized education. That is inequity,” she says.
— Associated Press
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