Chicago – Even with a college education, foreign-born young people who are not legal U.S. residents will have to accept the same kind of low-paying jobs without a future as their undocumented parents, according to a study by a University of Chicago professor.
Roberto G. Gonzalez interviewed 150 people of Mexican origin who emigrated before the age of 12 and are now between 20 and 34.
The result, according to a study appearing in the August edition of the American Sociological Review, is that despite growing up as Americans speaking English, the dreams these young people have about what they will do as adults do not come true.
While many undocumented immigrants assume their children will have a better life, they actually end up with the same jobs as their parents - in construction or restaurants, cleaning houses or as children's nannies - according to the professor.
"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," Gonzalez said. "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."
He said that the study's conclusions show why America's current immigration laws do nothing to meet the needs of the growing number of children and young adults who come to the country with undocumented parents.
"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 to live the lives for which school prepared them."
Most of those interviewed by Gonzalez said they first felt the effects of their undocumented status in their late teens, when they were asked for their Social Security number to get a part-time job, a driver's license or to enter university.
Many said they felt confused, annoyed, frustrated, afraid or stigmatized when they found out they were undocumented.
Returning to their country of origin would not be a viable solution for many of those interviewed, lacking as they do any social or professional ties there, any job possibilities or even the ability to speak Spanish fluently, not to mention having little idea about the culture and customs.
Seventy-seven percent of those interviewed decided to take university courses as a way of remaining protected by the education system and improve their employment opportunities.
But, Gonzalez said, university studies are no help in widening their horizons, and once graduated they face the same limited job choices as their parents had or their former classmates have who never went to college.
None of the 31 interviewees with bachelor's or graduate degrees were able to legally practice their chosen careers.
Gonzalez is a defender of the DREAM Act, legislation that would provide a path to legal residence for undocumented youths who attend college or join the Armed Forces.