Young illegal immigrants’ amnesty could tighten competition for jobs, college - New policy does not grant any public benefits, such as Medicare and Medicaid. Federal law already grants all undocumented immigrants the right to a public-school education and emergency hospital care.
President Obama has just opened a floodgate of opportunity for young illegal immigrants in the United States, but could it squeeze the aspirations of legal Americans in the process?
Across the nation Friday, immigrant advocates and Hispanic youth groups hailed Obama’s decision to offer legal status to some undocumented immigrants under 30 as a watershed in U.S. immigration history and a long-sought victory for ambitious youths denied a chance to realize the American dream.
“I thank God for this day. It has changed my whole life,” Jorge Acuna, 19, a college student in Silver Spring who came to the United States with his family as a child, told a cheering crowd outside the White House on Friday afternoon, minutes after Obama announced the new policy. Last spring, the community college student was nearly deported to his native Colombia. Now, under the amnesty, he will be able to pursue his degree in engineering.
But opponents of illegal immigration warned that the policy could create significant new competition for jobs and university slots at a time of nationwide recession and numerous states’ efforts to curb public spending.
“I see a tidal wave coming,” said Brad Botwin, president of Help Save Maryland, a group that opposes legalization for undocumented immigrants. “Half of our college graduates today can’t find jobs, and the unemployment rate for high-school-aged Americans is extremely high. This is unfair to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who are out there struggling to get ahead.”
Residency not provided
Under the new policy, as many as 1.4 million undocumented immigrants under age 30 will be able to apply for the amnesty, allowing them to work and attend college legally. To be eligible, they must have been in the United States for five years, have no criminal record, and attend high school or college or be a military veteran.
The policy does not provide permanent legal residency, but it protects those who qualify from being deported and gives them a chance to renew their new status every two years. It also does not grant any public benefits, such as Medicare and Medicaid. Federal law already grants all undocumented immigrants the right to a public-school education and emergency hospital care.
It was not immediately clear how the policy would dovetail with state laws and policies on illegal immigration. In the absence of a broad federal mandate, states have passed a variety of laws ranging from the relatively lax to the extremely strict. In the first three months of 2012, more than 860 bills and resolutions concerning immigration were introduced in state legislatures.
The most significant and contentious aspect of the new policy is that it automatically grants hundreds of thousands of people in their teens and 20s — most of them from Mexico and Central America — the right to work in the United States. Many may have already been working, but as undocumented laborers they often had to accept low wages and poor conditions.