Children of Illegal Immigrants Stuck in Limbo

Children who have been brought to the U.S. by their illegal immigrant parents are now trying to work within the system, to make their way to college and beyond, as legal and full contributors to the American society. Some, like Adriana Sanchez, who was brought to California when she was 12, and whose parents overstayed their visa and didn’t go back, recently graduated form the California State University with a Master’s Degree in International Relations. She now works for U.S. companies as an independent contractor, taking advantage of an area of employment law that is not very clearly defined.

These are the kinds of areas of knowledge that children of illegal immigrants, who are illegal immigrants, themselves must understand well enough to exploit in order to assure themselves access to both higher education and a career.

With thousands of young adults who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children now holding college degrees, Sanchez and others are finding creative ways to get around the legal roadblocks and find a career. They are getting work experience, opening businesses and seeking professional licenses in their fields.

Roberto Gonzalez, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago, who studies these cases, says that with fluency of English and a level of education often unmatched by the average American, these quasi-legal people are a valuable economic resource that the government must make more of an effort to use effectively. Both California and Texas already allow illegal immigrants who were brought to the country by the parents when they were young, and who show good results in their high school studies, to claim in-state tuition when attending public universities in the state. Although the numbers aren’t certain since schools don’t collect that kind of data on their student bodies, some estimate that there are close to 100,000 such young adults in the county who have at least an associate’s degree.

Many young people, like Sanchez, are pinning their hopes for some permanence on the long-contemplated federal DREAM Act, which would give official status to illegal immigrants who have been in the country since childhood and have, in the meantime, availed themselves to education. Currently however, the odds of passage remain slim as both parties are using the bill as political football in the upcoming elections.

This means that people like Sanchez, who once dreamed of a career in the State Department, must make their contribution in the shadows.

Although federal law prohibits employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, it does not require those who hire independent contractors to ask for proof of immigration status. As a result, the client who pays for services is not necessarily breaking the law even if the contractor isn’t authorized to work in the United States, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a law professor at Cornell Law School.