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Fixing the Educational Gap This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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It's no secret that the United States faces an education crisis. For decades, we've been concerned about the outsourcing of manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs to China, among other nations. However, for the first time in recent history, we're beginning to see major companies express an interest in outsourcing jobs that require a higher ­education as well. Employers are discovering that they can find highly educated workers elsewhere, so they're packing up their corporations and shipping them overseas, taking thousands of jobs with them. This phenomenon is primarily because our public education system is not turning out enough workers to fill posts that involve math and science. As a result, we are watching high-tech and management jobs disappear.

Meanwhile, America has an entire generation of young people who could help solve this crisis. However, we are withholding the resources they need. Young, undocumented immigrants come here yearning for a chance to get degrees that will help keep corporations here. However, thanks to politicians who believe in the process of “self-deportation” – the creation of an environment so unlivable that immigrants return home – we refuse to give these 18-year-olds in-state tuition, scholarships, or in some cases, admission to any university. Although it's nearly unanimously agreed that these children have committed no crime, we are punishing them for the actions of their parents.

Many of our country's leaders treat the problem as a pothole in the U.S. economy. However, because they would prefer to fill it with a different material, they refuse to use what lies before them. By passing the DREAM Act (a bill granting residency to upstanding immigrants who attended and graduated high school here) or similar legislation, the U.S. could make use of a generation of immigrants and give them a chance to be successful.

This problem and its obvious solution became clear to me when my family befriended a family living illegally in the United States that has two sons close to my age. When I was young I never understood why their mom didn't drive, why they couldn't take family vacations with us to California, why they never talked about their college plans. In middle school, my parents sat me down and explained their status to my sister and me. The mother – we'll call her Julia – didn't drive because she was unable to get a license. Also, the risks of being discovered as an illegal immigrant were higher at state borders, and college was out of reach financially for the two boys who didn't qualify for in-state tuition or federal loans since they were parented by immigrant housekeepers.

By comparison, my future seemed boundless. I had plans to change the world, but these boys – who we'll call Matthew and Austin – had an enormous roadblock in their path. Some people would tell them that the answer is simple – go back to Guatemala. Many politicians would agree – self-deport. But this was the only home they knew. They both dreamed of studying engineering, but that goal seemed out of reach. Matthew graduated high school, began working at a blue-collar job, and took classes at the local community college when he could afford them.

Last year, their case was heard and their family was granted green cards. This blessing allowed Matthew to enroll full time at Arizona State University. When Austin graduated from high school, he was able to enroll full time at the local community college. Matthew is on track to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering. Austin is pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering. Their gifts will be shared with the world of engineering, and they will contribute to American businesses remaining within the United States.

All too often, families like Matthew and Austin's don't get legal status in time for their children to get a higher education. All too often, our country misses the opportunity to use the resources in front of us, simply due to a preference for a different brand. As a result, we suffer from a hole in our economy.

Many would argue that legislation like the DREAM Act encourages illegal immigration. Politicians claim that we will never see relief in the “immigration problem” unless we make conditions less welcoming for undocumented immigrants. However, this position ignores the benefits of helping students like Matthew and Austin. It's time we decide to end the problems that our education crisis has caused. Undocumented immigrants who are nearing college age are yearning to help the United States, and if we ignore them, we do so at our own peril.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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