Education for Undocumented Immigrants
According to writer Peter Rousamaniere, “Washington State has 164,579 undocumented workers.” This statistic only covers illegal immigrants who work in our state, it does not account for unemployed immigrants residing here. Having these undocumented immigrants in America can benefit our country. Author Thomas Friedman wrote of the need for companies, as well as individuals, to compete as globalization gives us a larger, flatter field. This flatter playing field is realized as those in developing countries, with the use of technology, can now equally compete with those in America and around the world. Some argue educating the undocumented students of our valley is too expensive, however, educating them would give us a larger intelligence pool, which would enable us to compete better in a flat world by having more people to come up with new ideas.
Many immigrants, some illegal, work low wage jobs. Here in the Yakima Valley, the prime example is working in the fields. Educating these workers enables them to get a better job, making them more productive in our businesses and society. Friedman explains why education is the key to surviving and thriving in the new flat world. He says, “As we push the frontiers of human knowledge, work at every level becomes more complex, requiring more pattern recognition and problem solving” (Friedman 372-73). More complex jobs force the common layman to be proficient in the latest technology and skills available. The education of future employees is not only necessary for the employee sake, but is a requirement for surviving in a global economy.
Those who have the skills necessary can compete; those lacking skills are of little assistance. In reference to globalization, Reverend Jesse Jackson, founder and President of Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and the Citizen Education Fund said, “Let’s fight the fight. Let’s level the playing field. Drunk people can’t do that. Illiterate people can’t do that” (qtd. in Friedman 387). Those who are illiterate and uneducated cannot help us compete globally. According to journalist Larry Roberts, “As many as 44 million [people in America] cannot read a newspaper or fill out a job application.” Many people in our country cannot read and thus do not have the skills necessary to be of aid. Undocumented immigrants are often uneducated and usually work low-wage jobs. Educating those illegal immigrants can give them the ability to get better jobs. But this is more than a mere act of kindness. Once immigrants are educated, they are capable of aiding the country in our struggle to prosper in a global economy. They can adapt to globalization and think of groundbreaking ideas with their newfound knowledge, learned in our classrooms.
Allowing immigrants in our classrooms can be of value to us, as they are often eager to learn and discover new things. Friedman tells of an immigrant family who, “Complained their child didn’t have enough homework, or a good enough science book” (342). This is not a criticism often heard in the school districts. In this case, the foreign parents held higher standards for their child than Americans, and sought to raise the achievement level. Author Richard Rodriguez explains that most immigrants have this drive, legal or not. He says, “We, the children of immigrants, are never as bold, never as driven as our grandparents. That is why we become so amazed sometimes by immigrant ambition” (qtd. in Williamson 98). In America we are all children of immigrants, but often lose our ambition as generations pass. Immigrants in our school districts have the capability to renew our drive to achieve by exhibiting it themselves.
Immigrant students with ambition deserve an education but that education can also be of use to us. Bill Brody, President of John Hopkins University, wrote of the need to educate as many as we can, especially of those already in America. He said, “We are in a global talent search, so anything we can do in America to get these top draft choices we should do, because one of them is going to be Babe Ruth, and why should we let him or her go somewhere else?” (qtd. in Friedman). There are many undocumented immigrants whom we could educate. Brody points out that in passing up the opportunity to educate them, we have talent never fully realized.
While educating undocumented immigrants is for our good as well as theirs, it also has drawbacks. For one, legal American citizens fund the education system and pay to teach these undocumented students. The cost can be expensive, especially when the student does not speak English. The Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group committed to promoting a “FAIR” United States says, “Every non-English speaker costs from $290 to $879 [more] per pupil in Washington State.” In our state alone, it can cost nearly nine hundred extra dollars to educate just one foreign student per year. When the student is illegal, the burden will most likely fall on taxpayers.
Though the cost to taxpayers can be expensive, one must ask: What is the cost of not educating illegal immigrants? As Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance” (qtd in “Think”). Having millions of uneducated people in our society can prove treacherous. Statistics from Steve King, tell of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. He says, “Illegal aliens murder 12 Americans daily…. The death toll in 2006 far overshadows the total U. S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. (This was figured by multiplying 12 Americans killed daily)” (qtd in Farah). Of the many Americans killed by the events of September eleventh and the wars thereafter, King’s statistics report illegal aliens are responsible for even more deaths here at home. What will it take to prevent these crimes? Education, according to Nelson Mandela, is the answer. He says, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” (qtd. in “Wisdom”). Changing the life of one person can have a much larger affect in a world characterized by globalization. While education is costly, it cannot be cheaper than the lives saved from violence or the money saved in housing fewer criminals in our prison system. Journalist Ruby Takanishi attempts to put a number on this. She says, “For every dollar spent on good education, society saves seven dollars in costs for special education, delinquency, and crime control” (Takanishi). The expense of educating illegal immigrants is outweighed by the price paid in leaving them uneducated.
Besides a financial burden, another disadvantage in educating undocumented immigrants is larger classrooms. Yakima County, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, “Has an estimated 16.9 percent foreign born population” (“FAIR). Though certainly not all of our foreign born population is illegal, more students contribute to larger class sizes. Research regarding the effect a larger classroom can have on quality education is varied; some experts believe class size has a large impact while others are unconvinced. Whatever the case may be, the Yakima Valley can afford to share a classroom with undocumented students in an effort to educate as many as possible to compete in globalization.
Another point against educating illegal immigrants is that educating the children of undocumented workers gives the parents reason to stay and work our low wage jobs. In the Yakima Valley immigrants are commonly hired over native U. S. citizens. This is especially true in agriculture, where immigrants are most commonly hired for the picking, pruning and harvesting of our crops. Reporter Leah Beth Ward observes, “Up to 70% of the Yakima Valley’s farm worker force is estimated to be illegal.” Educating undocumented immigrants will get them out of these jobs just as educating poor American citizens raises their standard of living. Once those in poverty are educated, legal and illegal, they are able to compete in a global market. As skill jobs are replaced with technology or are outsourced, we need more jobs created. Thomas Friedman remarks, “There’s no limit to the number of idea-generated jobs in the world” (267). Educating undocumented immigrants give us more people in our country that can come up with idea-based jobs to help us flourish in the new flat world.
In order for undocumented students to truly help us compete globally, higher education must be available to them. This is an option that has not been opened to them, namely because they must pay out of state tuition. In a world where skills and specialization are necessary, limiting illegal immigrants to a high school education is almost as though we chose not to educate them. Congress has attempted to pass The DREAM Act in an effort to aid undocumented students who wish to attend college. The National Immigrant Law Center summarizes the purpose of the act, “[It would] Eliminate the federal provision that discourages state from providing in-state tuition without regard to immigration status; and permit some immigrant students who have grown up in the U. S. to apply for legal status.” Congress has attempted to give undocumented students access to higher education, which is for their benefit as well as ours. The DREAM Act has not been passed but its presentation shows that allowing immigrants to pay in-state tuition is a live issue, which many politicians are in favor of. The full potential of undocumented immigrants will likely never be realized if they cannot afford higher education.
Educating illegal immigrants has a cost, financially and otherwise. Yet the reward of having more knowledgeable people is an asset to the country and is worth the expense. We need as many intelligent individuals as possible to help us compete in a global market. Illegal immigrants are already in the Yakima Valley in considerable numbers and thus are a resource easily tapped. Discussing the importance of education, Aristotle said, “All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth” (qtd. in “Wisdom”). Our country depends on how we compete globally, which relies on how many educated people we have. Leaving illegal immigrants uneducated is leaving behind an untold number of “Babe Ruth’s.”
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