Children Without Papers

By Ariana Pekary, producer 


Bob with Isabel CastilloIn 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Plyler v. Doe that state schools cannot discriminate against children based on their legal resident status.  The state of Texas wanted to withhold funds to schools attended by undocumented students.  SCOTUS argued that action was “directed against children, and impose[d] its discriminatory burden on the basis of a legal characteristic over which children can have little control.”

So since then, immigrant students have been able to attend public schools (grades K-12), regardless of their status.  What that means now is that every year an estimated 65,000 students graduate from high school, but without a social security number, it’s nearly impossible to find a job or go on to college.  Many of the young people also feel it isn’t possible to return to their country of origin.  They are no longer familiar with the culture or language.

That creates another problem: now an estimated two million young people with high school diplomas are languishing, not using their education nor talents.  Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) proposed legislation in 2001 that would help fix the problem.  It requires two years of college education or two years of military service, and will help get those on the path to citizenship (which is still more than a ten year process). 

Isabel Castillo is one of the many young Dream Activists  who have “come out” in the last couple of years to push for the Dream Act.  She’s a stellar example of what children of immigrants can do.  But not everyone has her drive and spunk, so unfortunately, most don’t make it to college.

The Dream Activists in the United States are a diverse group.  Yo Sub is a Korean-American featured in the film, Papers: Stories of Undocumented Youth.  He earned a 4.5 weighted GPA in high school, but was rejected in his first two rounds of college applications.  These are strong, resilient minds that the United States could use.  What’s more, going back to that Supreme Court ruling, some question the wisdom of “the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime.” 

Lastly, here’s a rundown about the individuals interviewed in today’s show:

Brent Wilkes, National Executive Director for the League of United Latin American Citizens 

Anne Galisky, Producer, Papers: Stories of Undocumented Youth

Deanna Durham, Isabel Castillo’s former professor 

Sam Nickles, Diversity Coordinator, NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center 

Sandy Mercer, Harrisonburg High School teacher