Second in a series.
Many Americans consider education to be a birthright. For parents who bring their children across the treacherous Mexican border, the hope of an education is often their beacon of motivation.
But one population of young people – in their teens and early 20s – will never have the opportunity to even consider an education. They are young Mexican day laborers. For them, making money to survive takes priority over any thoughts of algebra, history, and the mere dream of a college degree.
Consider Eddy, a 24-year-old from Mexico who has lived in Tucson for nearly a decade – including periods of deportation. He leaves his home six days a week at 4 a.m. to work low-level construction jobs, often logging more than 14 hours of manual labor in a single 24-hour cycle. Having crossed the border at the encouragement – but not accompaniment – of his parents, Eddy came to Arizona for a better life, for more promising jobs.
“Most of the time, I’m working,” Eddy said. And he says each night, “I sleep like a rock.”
After being detained at a Midwest checkpoint during a road trip to move further north, Eddy spent three months in a detention facility.
His case judge then ordered him deported back to Mexico. In an attempt to obey the sentence and make his life back in Mexico, Eddy tried to earn his GED for two years.
“[But] it was very hard,” Eddy said. “I used to work twelve hours every day, and I had to work overnight once a month.”
Returning to Tucson almost a year later, Eddy studied daily after work to earn his GED; he wanted to enroll in community college to become an electrician.
When he went to register as a college student, the counselors informed him he was not eligible for any scholarship or aid—and thus, attendance—because he did not qualify under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals legislation. He was never enrolled in a high school class, and he had no documentation proving consistent residence in the U.S. for the period of time allotted.
It’s a problem plaguing many young immigrants, and one that will remain the norm in Eddy’s brothers’ lives too—they cannot afford not to work, and therefore they cannot afford the daytime hours of a public education.
According to the 2012 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly half of the foreign-born labor force in America was made up of Hispanics. Of the 25 million foreign-born workers in the U.S., only 17.4 percent have some college or an associate degree, compared with 30.1 percent of the native-born labor force.
With legislation such as DACA in place, why is the opportunity for education not extended to all youth who want to build a better life for themselves?
Under the DACA, undocumented immigrant youth who crossed into the U.S. before age 16 and had remained in the U.S. for five consecutive years prior to the enactment of the bill can qualify—granted they have graduated from U.S. high school, earned a GED, or have been already accepted into a higher learning institution. (The latter is a more rare case for most Latino youth.)
DACA does not just improve education opportunities—it allows undocumented youth to apply for and hold stable, fair-wage jobs. There are no worker protection insurances when the workforce itself must remain in the legal shadows.
James Lyall, an ACLU attorney based in Tucson, explained that while efforts such as DACA are steps for the immigration improvement, they only help a small portion within even the same generational demographic. In Arizona particularly, disagreements between the federal and state governments as to what rights should be extended to undocumented persons plague the Tucson community.
“Just by virtue of their political disagreement, [Arizona leaders have] singled out this one particular group,” Lyall said, referring to young undocumented immigrants trying to survive and work in the U.S.
Even those who qualify under DACA cannot earn their driver’s license; Arizona governor Jan Brewer issued an order denying qualified immigrant youth driver’s license privileges the same day DACA went into effect in August 2012–making it one of only two states to disregard eligibility provided by legislation.
Young undocumented immigrants are then limited in job opportunities without that reliable source of transportation—effectively undermining one of the key benefits extended under DACA.
Eddy’s second-eldest brother, Hugo, said his experience in the U.S. has been one of economic chance, but societal discrimination.
“This country,” Hugo said, “[it] makes laws just for Mexicans.”