Under a new immigration policy announced by President Barack Obama on Friday, undocumented students who came to the United States before the age of 16 and have clean criminal records may seek employment without the threat of deportation.
The policy states that the Department of Homeland Security will discontinue the deportation of younger illegal immigrants and allow them to apply for work permits if they meet certain requirements. In addition to the age and record requirements, eligible immigrants must have lived in the United States for at least five consecutive years, be in school and be high school graduates or military veterans.
Veronica Terriquez, director of USC’s Chicano and Latino studies program, said the policy may open up new job opportunities for undocumented students with college degrees.
“It appears that undocumented students will be able to access work permits, which may allow them to attain a job commensurate with their educational credentials,” Terriquez said. “This is good news because there are young people who are educated by our public and private school systems, who have college educations and are working at restaurants or are working in the types of jobs that don’t require much education so it’s a waste of talent.”
Gene Bickers, vice provost for undergraduate programs, said the university enrolls both undocumented undergraduate and graduate students.
“There is no specific office that works with them,” Bickers said. “They are regarded the same as any other students in the university.”
Terriquez said USC’s undocumented population is small and that the highest proportion of undocumented students enroll in public community colleges.
Nef Cardenas, a junior at Cerritos College, is researching photochemical reactions as a summer intern at USC. Cardenas said the new policy is “perfect” because students who have graduated with degrees can pursue jobs related to their studies.
“I know people that have master’s [degrees], graduate students, and all they do is wait tables, bag groceries … stuff that pays minimum or below minimum wage,” Cardenas said.
Michelle Tomkovicz, a senior majoring in international relations, said though she is not personally affected by the policy, many of her friends welcomed the change.
“I have a lot of friends back home who said they know some of their friends and families are really happy about it,” Tomkovicz said.
Though Terriquez also said the policy is more economically efficient, she underscored the fact that this fix does not provide a long-term solution for illegal immigration.
“This is positive for the short term, but for the long term there has to be a pathway to citizenship so people can become fully incorporated [into] U.S. society,” Terriquez said.
The policy does not include a pathway to citzenship, as legislation rejected by the Senate in late 2010, known as the DREAM Act, would have.