As the illegal immigration issues swirls in the media, I have recently heard debate over whether or not American schools should provide education for the children of illegal immigrants. I find this astonishing.
Education is the key to their futures and ours. In school they learn skills which enable productive adult lives, and history, which we hope will guide them to wise decisions in the future. Perhaps most important, they learn the values, rights and responsibilities laid out in the Constitution — our common bond, which all residents of the United States should understand.
And while educating immigrant children is expensive, refusing to educate them would be more so. Keeping children in school keeps communities safer. Children who are in school are less likely to become pregnant out of wedlock, to develop chemical dependencies and to commit crimes. We will spend money — either on education, or on prisons, substance abuse programs, halfway houses…
A recent story in the Los Angeles Times put a human face on the child-immigrant issue, pointing out that many arrive so young that they have no recollection of their countries of origin. They grow up as culturally American as you and I. Upon high school graduation, however, many discover that they cannot pursue the college educations toward which they have worked, because they lack proper documentation. If they do manage to attend college, often through great personal sacrifice, their lack of documentation prevents them from pursuing the careers for which they have studied, and consigns them to a future in the low-wage manual labor market. What a waste, when these creative minds could be adding to the strength and success of American businesses.
Children who have been brought to this country illegally are not responsible for that action — their parents are. What if we were to stop penalizing them for a crime they didn’t commit, and give them a stake in the future of this nation — a reason to want to contribute, rather than a reason to be disillusioned? What if we were to grant citizenship to immigrant children on their 18th birthdays, or upon high school graduation? There would obviously have to be restrictions, lest this become a catalyst for increased illegal immigration… But for those of you who are fiscally minded, we would also be creating taxpayers out of them, which would help pay for the educations they’d received.
The United States preaches abroad that hope and opportunity are stabilizing factors in a society. At the same time we often deny hope and opportunity to people within our own borders. The recent riots in France illustrated how destabilizing it is to marginalize segments of the population, and we would do well to heed that lesson.
Like it or not, these children are among us, and they are quickly growing into adults who will also be among us. And whether those future adults are a blessing or a burden to society is largely up to us.
Darci Tucker teaches history and citizenship in schools nationwide through her original one-woman plays. www.americanlives.net