In a recent New York Times Magazine article published today, Mountain View High School Class of 2000 graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas described his life growing up as an undocumented immigrant. He tells of his journey to this country from the Philippines at age 12 to live with his grandparents and begin sixth grade in America. In a brief career, Jose has accomplished much as a professional journalist including stints on the Washington Post, the Huffington Post and a profile of Mark Zuckerberg for the New Yorker. As the superintendent of schools of Jose’s alma mater high school, his story gave me pause to contemplate his successes and the grave disservice that we provide our undocumented high school graduates. Earlier this month, it was my honor to bestow diplomas to our graduates, knowing that some of those graduates were undocumented and set to begin a precarious journey.
Students like Jose and other undocumented students graduate from our high schools every year. They came to this country illegally through no fault of their own, predominantly with relatives. Many have siblings born in this country who are U.S. citizens. I am asked how many undocumented students attend our high schools, and I truly do not know. The Pew Research Center has estimated that California’s labor force is 9.7 percent undocumented. Schools discover who is undocumented when staff start working with graduating seniors on college financial aid applications and students reveal that they are ineligible for virtually all grants or loans because of their immigration status.
Jose is not alone among highly skilled local undocumented graduates. Our community is currently working diligently to keep honors pre-medical student Mandeep Chahal, Class of 2009, from being deported to India, as a result of her not having the proper documentation, in spite of a highly successful fourteen-year record of academic achievement.
I fear that the immigration bill recently enacted in Alabama (H.B. 56) might gain support in other states requiring families to report their immigration status to schools and banning undocumented students from attending public colleges and universities. This bill will effectively eradicate undocumented student’s motivation for receiving a quality education and enriching society as a whole, again, through no fault of their own. Without a path to citizenship, many undocumented students and their families lose their motivation for a formal education, and settle for low-skilled jobs that one can obtain more easily without the proper citizenship papers. But our undocumented kids have so much more to offer.
Our students deserve better. They deserve a pathway to citizenship for kids who graduate from college or serve in our military. We must pass immigration reform (a federal example is the not-yet-passed DREAM Act- the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act- which would afford college graduates a path to permanent citizenship). We have invested in our youth and we should provide them the opportunity to give back to our country. By passing a dream act, we could enrich our country with more physicians, or even a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist or two.
Barry Groves is the current superintendent of the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District.