Are Immigrant Kids Getting a Fair Deal?

According to experts, there are an estimated 4.5 million American children who are born in the US to undocumented immigrants. By birthright, these children are US citizens but are in some cases unable to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship due to their family’s immigration status. For example, many colleges and universities require applying students to disclose the federal immigration status of their parents. When children are not able to prove that their parents are in the country legally, they may face problems when applying to colleges and universities. For example, many other four-year colleges can deny applications to students whose parents are in the country illegally while others ask students to pay a much higher out-of-state tuition rate. California denies in-state tuition to all US citizen students born to undocumented immigrants. Many advocates are upset by this, since US citizen children born to undocumented immigrants pay Social Security and taxes and can serve in the Armed Forces, but have a hard time getting fair treatment at colleges.

Some legislators are trying to take away the birthright of children born in the US to undocumented immigrants. Critics call these children “anchor babies” and believe that birthright allows undocumented immigrants a loophole whereby they can come to the US to have US citizen children, even if they are in the country illegally.  Some allege that undocumented immigrants specifically have children in the US so that these children will have legal status and thus will be a way for the family to remain in the US.

Under current laws, however, children who are born in the US are US citizens, regardless of who their parents are. Despite this, colleges do inquire about the status of parents and often charge US born students of undocumented immigrants extra costs. The cost difference can be enough to make a college education unattainable for many US citizen students, even if they have lived in the US and in one state their entire lives. For example, Miami Dade College, charges $2,532 per year for residents pursuing a two-year associates degree while the cost for non-residents is $9,057 per year. At Florida International University, a four-year bachelor’s degree costs $2,800 for Florida state residents but costs $12,492 annually for nonresidents. In many cases, students of undocumented immigrants who are denied in-state rates are also not eligible for many forms of student aid. As a result, many students who have received a US education and who may be bright and able to contribute to the US economy cannot do so – due to a decision that their parents made.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class action lawsuit related to the matter, arguing that the schools are engaging in systemic discrimination by refusing to offer the same benefits to US born students of undocumented immigrants. Judge K. Michael Moore recently decided that Florida violates the constitutional birthright of US-born children who are born to undocumented immigrants. The judge noted that the issue should be the legal status and immigration status of the students attending the college – not the status of their families.