|McALLEN, April 21 - Here in the Rio Grande Valley, migration is a fundamental part of our history, identity, and, for some individuals, daily life.
Our region has long been both a destination and a point of transition for people looking for new opportunity for themselves and their families. Alongside the U.S./Mexico border, South Texas has one of the highest rates of population growth in the state, partially due to the influx of new arrivals from other parts of the state and other countries. This infusion of talent and perspectives offers incredible opportunity for our region.
Too often, however, our communities arenít able to fully benefit from this talent because undocumented immigrants are unable to fully participate in our public institutions and access economic opportunity. This is particularly true for our undocumented children. For them, the pathways to higher education and the range of life opportunity it creates are severely limited. While many will graduate from high school, they then find the doors to their academic futures slammed shut. Access to financial aid is limited for those lacking a social security number and fear of deportation keeps many undocumented students from applying to college, let along planning how to pay for it.
Without a college degree, professional options are limited for these young people and opportunities to break the cycle of poverty are cut short as well. Not only does this system of exclusion hurt our undocumented students, but it prevents our communities from benefitting from their talents and energies as well.
Earlier this winter, President Obama and a bipartisan group of senators came together to address this challenge, outlining a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. Like previous DREAM Act proposals, their roadmap points to expanded pathways to higher education. Their bill is expected to be announced today. A proposal along these lines Ė one with provisions that make it easier for undocumented high schoolers to get to and through college Ė has the potential to correct a long-standing injustice. Without such progress, education will never truly be the nationís great equalizer it should be.
As a new dad, I am grateful that my sonís road to college will be smoothed by the benefits of citizenship. He will grow up knowing that his family and community support his pursuit of higher education without reservation and that he will have access to critical supports like financial aid without possible legal repercussions for himself and the ones he loves. This should be a reality for all of our children, not just some of our children. In my work with hundreds of teachers across the region, Iíve seen too often that this is not a reality for their students. In South Texas, immigration issues are not abstract concepts Ė they have real and immediate repercussions for our students, our neighbors, and our family members every day. For the future of our children and the Valley, we must stand firm in our commitment to educational opportunity for all.
Robert Carreon is executive director of Teach For America-Rio Grande Valley. He submitted the column on the day the so-called Gang of Eight U.S. senators unveiled their immigration reform proposals.