College-educated undocumented young adults face same narrow range of jobs as their parents

July 26, 2011

Parents who move to the United States without legal status generally seek better opportunities for their young children. Their kids grow up Americanized: speaking English, attending public school, going to the prom and dreaming about what they want to do when they grow up.

Many assume these youths will achieve more than their parents. But a survey of life trajectories of undocumented young adults raised and educated in America shows that they end up with the same labor jobs as their parents, working in construction, restaurants, cleaning and childcare services.

The results appear in the August issue of American Sociological Review.

"This is a population of young people who, because of their legal integration through the school system, learned to work hard and pursue the American dream," said Roberto G. Gonzales, author of the survey and an assistant professor at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration. "Many of them grew up believing that being able to speak English and having an education should be able to get them more than their parents."

Gonzales did the study while he was an assistant professor at the University of Washington's School of Social Work. He conducted life history interviews with 150 mostly Mexican-origin undocumented young adults - about equal numbers of men and women - who had been brought to the U.S. before age 12. The respondents lived in the Los Angeles metropolitan area and were 20 to 34 years old.

His findings could illuminate how current immigration laws don't adequately accommodate the ever-increasing number - now at 2.1 million - of children and young adults who are brought to the U.S. as children and left to figure out how to navigate their adult lives without legal status.

"Through the U.S. public school system, undocumented children are integrated into the legal framework of this country," Gonzales said. "But as they reach adulthood, they are cut off from the means through which to live the lives for which school prepared them."

Gonzales, a sociologist, wanted to learn how undocumented youths learn of their immigration status and how they come to cope with its effects on their identity, friendships, career aspirations and daily lives.

Most of the people surveyed told Gonzales that they first felt the effects of their non-legal status between the ages of 16-18, usually when they sought part-time jobs, driver's licenses or admission to college, which require a social security number.

Many respondents told Gonzales that they felt confused, angry, frustrated, scared and stigmatized when they learned of their immigration status. Their social habits changed out of fear of who to trust. Career plans halted. Arrest and deportation became constant threats for many, Gonzales said.

Returning to their native country was not a viable option for most of the respondents, because they lacked important social and professional connections, job options, Spanish fluency and familiarity with the culture and customs of their birth country.

Miguel, one of the respondents, had intended to go to college and then law school. When his mother told him in high school that he wasn't legal, he said: "I didn't know what to do. I couldn't see my future anymore."

Cory, age 22, blamed her parents for not telling her sooner about her non-legal status. "I feel like a kid, I can't do anything adults do," she said. Most respondents expressed similar sentiments of developmental limbo.

Seventy-seven of the respondents decided to go to college as a way to stay legally protected by the school system and to try to improve their career options. Relationships with teachers, friends and family were key to whether the respondents attended college, Gonzales found.

But college experience didn't help the respondents broaden their job options. Once they left school, they faced the same narrow range of jobs as their parents and high school peers who did not go to college. None of the 22 respondents who had graduated from four-year universities, or the nine who held graduate degrees, was able to legally pursue their chosen careers.

By their late 20s, respondents reported coming to grips with their illegal status, focusing on what they could do rather than what they couldn't.

Gabriel, a 28-year-old who attended some community college classes, told Gonzales that he sees work as just one piece of his life and that he gets more satisfaction out of his relationship with his girlfriend and being in a dance circle. "I just get sick of being controlled by the lack of nine digits," he said.

"His aspirations flattened, he accepted his fate," Gonzales said of Gabriel. "Is that why we educate our youngsters? Is that the future we want for them?"

Gonzales said that educators and policymakers have important roles to play in helping undocumented youth transition into adulthood. "The problems facing undocumented children and young adults underscore the need for a more diverse approach to immigration policy," he said.
-end-
The study was funded by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

For more information, contact Gonzales at 773-834-1763 or rggonzales@uchicago.edu.

University of Washington

Related Education Articles from Brightsurf:

Applying artificial intelligence to science education
A new review published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching highlights the potential of machine learning--a subset of artificial intelligence--in science education.

Dementia education
School-based dementia education could deliver much needed empathy and understanding for older generations as new research from the University of South Australia shows it can significantly improve dementia knowledge and awareness among younger generations.

How can education researchers support education and public health and institutions during COVID-19?
As education researchers' ongoing work is interrupted by school closures, what can they do to support education and public health institutions dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic?

Online education platforms could scale high-quality STEM education for universities
Online and blended (online and in-person) STEM instruction can produce the same learning outcomes for students as traditional, in-person classes at a fraction of the cost, finds research published today in Science Advances.

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.

The new racial disparity in special education
Racial disparity in special education is growing, and it's more complex than previously thought.

Education may be key to a healthier, wealthier US
A first-of-its-kind study estimate the economic value of education for better health and longevity.

How education may stave off cognitive decline
Prefrontal brain regions linked to higher educational attainment are characterized by increased expression of genes involved in neurotransmission and immunity, finds a study of healthy older adults published in JNeurosci.

Does more education stem political violence?
In a study released online today in Review of Educational Research, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, three Norwegian researchers attempt to bring clarity to this question by undertaking the first systematic examination of quantitative research on this topic.

Individual education programs not being used as intended in special education
Gone are the days when students with disabilities were placed in a separate classroom, or even in a completely different part of the school.

Read More: Education News and Education Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.