Research Points Out Economic Consequences of Not Allowing In-State Tuition to Undocumented Students
Posted on April 19, 2012
Clinic director sees legal effects of immigration issues
Next week, the University of Arkansas will host a panel of young people who will discuss the challenges they face as undocumented immigrants living in the United States. As the founding director of the university’s School of Law’s Immigration Clinic, Elizabeth Young deals with these same challenges on a daily basis. Her legal work and review of immigration issues have led her to believe that states that pass anti-immigration statutes or that do not allow undocumented high school graduates to receive in-state tuition are missing out on significant economic benefits.
At the clinic, Young and her third-year law students guide local residents, including University of Arkansas students, through the various stages of residency status with the ultimate goal of U.S. citizenship. Their clients are often poor, working people who, for one reason or another, have come into contact with public authorities and have been placed in immigration court after “living in the shadows.” Like the young people who will participate in next week’s discussion, many of the people who come to the immigration clinic for legal help have spent most their lives in the United States.
“Most of them have grown up here, and they want the same thing you and I want,” said Young, “an opportunity to improve their lives, to earn a decent living and to take care of their families.”
Young cites extant and growing research that shows that undocumented workers have a positive impact on the economy. A recent, non-partisan study from the state of Georgia, which enacted a sweeping anti-immigration law in 2011, demonstrated that undocumented immigrants contribute positively to Georgia’s economy. Some of these studies mention that many – probably an overwhelming majority – of undocumented workers collectively pay billions of dollars annually in income taxes, even though they are not legally required to do so. Many of these workers are motivated to pay taxes because they know that a history of doing so will help them later when they apply for citizenship or seek forms of relief through immigration courts.
Along with the taxes, undocumented workers contribute to the economy just like any other workers: they purchase goods, they buy property, they pay for professional services. A state that enforces stricter immigration laws to the point that undocumented workers leave will lose economy to neighboring states.
Likewise, prohibiting the children of undocumented workers from receiving in-state tuition hurts a state’s economy by encouraging the smartest of these immigrant students to seek college education elsewhere. Currently, only 13 states, including Texas, California and New York, have enacted laws that allow in-state tuition for undocumented high school graduates. Arkansas, with one of the lowest college graduation rates nationwide and a rapidly growing Hispanic population, has not.
Young focuses on the citizenship process, a key area of federal immigration law. Often, this process begins, she said, only after some kind of triggering event – an arrest is an extreme example – that exposes an immigrant’s illegal status. Of course, undocumented workers can choose to reveal their illegal status to employers or government entities at any time to pursue legal residency or citizenship, but they know this choice might impair their ability to get a job and could possibly lead to removal or deportation.
In 2010 and 2011, Young and the student lawyers in the immigration clinic helped Jonathan Chavez, a University of Arkansas student who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Florida, where he was visiting his mother for Christmas. Chavez had graduated from a high school in Rogers, Ark., with a 4.0 GPA. At the time he was detained, he had a 3.8 GPA at the university and was a member of the Honors College. Chavez was released after two months in detention. As an undocumented student, he was already disallowed from paying in-state tuition as a matter of state policy, even though he had lived here since junior high.
Chavez’s parents and siblings have their green cards, and his parents have petitioned for him to get his green card through their family relationship. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has chosen to exercise prosecutorial discretion through a new program they enacted last summer, and this has allowed Chavez to remain in the United States until his application has been adjudicated. This also grants him lawful authorization to work in the United States.
Chavez’s case is another example of how youth who are undocumented, even those who came to the United States legally, can be affected by the lack of a clear path to legal residency or citizenship.
Young started the immigration law clinic after serving for two years as interim director of the immigration law clinic at George Washington University Law School. She worked for three years at the San Francisco Immigration Court as an attorney adviser through the Department of Justice Honors Program. Her duties included writing final orders, analyzing and presenting changes in federal law to the immigration judges, supervising judicial law clerks and managing the Court’s intern program. Her research focuses on issues in immigration.
Coordinated by the University of Arkansas, “Undocumented: Living in the Shadows” will be held Monday, April 23, from 7:30-9 p.m. at the Town Center in Fayetteville.