City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-NY) announced Wednesday that the city will spend $18 million on adult education classes and GED programs specifically for undocumented immigrants. In order to be eligible for DACA, an applicant must either have or be working toward a high school diploma or a GED. Existing adult education programs are already at capacity, so the new funding is necessary to accommodate thousands of new students.
According to the New York Daily News, roughly 79,000 New York City residents qualify for the age and immigration requirements for DACA, but 16,000 do not meet the educational criteria. DACA grants work permits and Social Security cards to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before age 16 and were younger than 31 on June 15, 2012.
Besides DACA’s strict education requirements, application fees are steep at $495. Many eligible students are also concerned that they will expose their parents’ legal status if they apply for DACA. As a result, New Yorkers have been slow to take advantage of the program; one year after its inception, less than 30 percent of eligible young people are enrolled. Through June, just 28,338 applications were submitted by New Yorkers.
Undocumented immigrants especially struggle with finishing high school, with a dropout rate hovering around 50 percent. Mexican immigrants, the fastest growing demographic in New York, have by far the highest dropout rate of any immigrant group. Because these students can’t access federal loans, scholarships, or in-state tuition to go to college, many are discouraged from finishing high school and end up in low-wage, dead-end jobs. One study found that undocumented students’ grades tanked after they found out that their immigration status was a barrier to college.
Many states and university systems have started offering in-state tuition and even financial aid to undocumented students in order to bring higher education within grasp of these students. Public high school teachers in Brooklyn are currently raising money for an undocumented scholarship fund to help their students get to college.