SOMERVILLE, MA, April 24, 2014 – Every year, 65,000 undocumented youth graduate from U.S. high schools. With 66 percent of its student body “minority,” many of them immigrants, each class at Somerville High School likely has a dozen, or even several dozen, undocumented youth.
Because immigration reform and the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act are both stalled in Washington, these young people are stuck in limbo.
“I was a soccer captain in my senior year,” an 18-year-old told Somerville Neighborhood News. (His name is withheld to protect him and his family.) “I currently have a 3.5 GPA. The schools that are recruiting me are Merrimack, UMass Lowell, UMass Amherst…”
But the star scholar athlete, brought to the country when he was 13, won’t be attending those schools. If his family can scrape together the money, he may attend community college. Or he will head back to Brazil.
A few years ago, Mitchell Frietas faced the same challenge.
“I didn’t know what to do,” the 21-year-old said. “There were little scholarships available to me… The feeling of seeing all my peers around me filling out their FAFSAs (financial aid] forms) and just applying, getting their drivers’ licenses and getting all these amazing jobs, it was horrible. I remember that at times I would get home and I would break down into tears… It was like all the doors of the world were shut to me.”
Frietas was lucky. He and his family got Green Cards at the last minute, just before college applications were due, and he attended college. Todayhe works at a bank in Somerville and is also continuing his studies.
Most students aren’t that lucky, according to Somerville High School Counselor Anne Herzberg.
“One of the hardest things I see every year is kids who have done everything right in high school… everything you would hope a student in U.S. high school would do, and because of their status here they are unable to find a place that will accept them and give them the financial support that they need to be able to attend a four-year college,” she said.
Undocumented students cannot receive state or federal loans, or even in-state tuition. They can attend university, but many institutions are loath to invest in them due to their status.
“As an immigrant myself and as a counselor, it’s hard for me to not to believe in the American Dream, that students can be here and be successful and work hard and achieve,” she said.
Congressman Michael E. Capuano (D-MA), who is of Italian and Irish descent, supports comprehensive immigration reform as well as the DREAM Act. He called the situation of undocumented youth “a terrible tragedy.”
“Look, you can make an argument every day of the week about adults who may have come here illegally or usually stayed here illegally, and that’s fine. That’s one part of the discussion. I just don’t think it’s a valid part of the discussion to include children who really didn’t choose their life,” he said. “They’re pending in limbo and I think… we’re wasting their future on their behalf. I think it’s a terrible tragedy.”