Equity & Diversity

100,000 Undocumented Students Graduate From U.S. High Schools Each Year, Analysis Finds

By Corey Mitchell — April 24, 2019 3 min read
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An estimated 98,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year, but those graduates remain “at risk of deportation and will face severely limited opportunities to pursue further work and education,” according to a new report from the Migration Policy Institute.

While high school commencement marks an important milestone for the students, graduates from the class of 2018 graduates and beyond aren’t eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly known as DACA. Without the work permits and deportation protections that DACA offers, the undocumented graduates face few prospects, even after earning their diplomas, the report argues.

A 2018 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that DACA had a “significant impact” on the educational outcomes of undocumented immigrant youths, including a 15 percent increase in high school graduation rates, a 3 percent increase in the school attendance of high-school-age students, and a 22 percent increase in college enrollment among Hispanic women.

Despite an outpouring of public support from school and business leaders across the country and research highlighting its benefits, DACA remains a divisive issue on Capitol Hill. Immigration policy in general has confounded lawmakers for decades.

In January, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the latest iteration of the DREAM Act, legislation that could pave the way for many of the recent high school graduates to become eligible for DACA, or similar programs.

As debates over immigration and DACA in particular have ebbed and flowed in recent years, the numbers of potential DREAMers graduating from high school each year hadn’t been updated in nearly two decades.

The new estimate from the Migration Policy Institute represents a 50 percent increase over the estimate of 65,000 graduates produced by the Urban Institute in the early 2000s. For the past 15 years, researchers and policymakers had relied on those Urban Institute findings while debating the merits of making college and work opportunities available to the students.

Increasing college attendance and high school graduation rates among Latino and English-language-learner students and shifts in the size and profile of the undocumented population—with more immigrants arriving from Africa, Asia, and Central America—led the Migration Policy Institute to seek out new numbers.

The institute’s new analysis estimates that about 27,000 undocumented immigrants graduate from California high schools every year, representing 27 percent of the national total, followed by 17,000 in Texas, 5,000 in Florida, and 4,000 each in Illinois, New Jersey, and New York.

The organization had previously estimated that a quarter-million students had become DACA-eligible since President Barack Obama began the program in 2012. The new analysis would place that new number of potentially eligible students above 500,000.

More than 16 months have passed since President Donald Trump originally proposed canceling DACA in September 2017. At the time, he gave Congress six months to work out a compromise solution; that deadline came and went without an agreement.

The program—which provides protections for nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants, including thousands who work and learn in the nation’s K-12 schools—remains in place for now.

But the Trump administration will not accept new requests and, amid growing concerns about depressed student attendance and morale, it remains unclear how the immigration crackdown could affect graduation rates.

Here’s a copy of the report.

Related Reading

How Much Can Schools Protect Undocumented Students

Undocumented Students Fear for Their Future

With Rollback of DACA, ‘Dreamers’ in U.S. Schools Prepare for a Fight

Image Credit: Migration Policy Institute

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.