Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Implications of Obama's deferred action plan on the job market, higher education

As the dust settles on Friday's announcement by President Obama that he won't pursue deportation for some young undocumented immigrants, attention has turned to the short- and long-term impacts of potentially hundreds of thousands of young people getting temporary legal status and work permits, some with college degrees they haven't been able to fully take advantage of.

The plan is to allow undocumented immigrants 30 and younger who came to the U.S. before age 16 to apply for deferred action, a two-year deferment of removal. Those who qualify can apply for work authorization. It's not permanent legal status, but the implications are still staggering, even if only half those eligible join the job market. Here are a couple of good takes on how the development could affect the job market and higher education:

The San Jose Mercury News looks at the possible scenario in California, where it's estimated that as many as 350,000 young people could be eligible for relief. This means a potentially huge spike in job seekers as youths working under-the-table jobs begin competing for better openings:

Eduardo Ruiz, of San Jose, has worked in a South Bay market since he was a teenager, but the trained artist wants to animate 3-D movies and open his own studio. Fiona Cruz, of Daly City, earned a biotechnology degree at UC Davis but is blocked from working in a science lab. Alameda's Ju Hong bussed tables at a sushi restaurant to pay his UC Berkeley bills but would rather be drafting better government policies.

...How their arrival into the formal job market will affect California's economy and employment is a mystery to many economists because nothing quite like this has ever happened before.

Many of those eligible are already working, but only because their employers don't know or care that they are here illegally. Giving them legal work permits -- renewable every two years -- will open up previously unattainable careers to people like Ruiz, Cruz and Hong.

"My dream is to start my own studio. I'll have to hire people. That's job creation, an investment," said Ruiz, a 29-year-old about to graduate from San Jose State.


In terms of higher education, the implications are also big ones. Inside Higher Ed has a piece questioning whether the development will steer more undocumented youths into college, now that they can look forward to using their degrees, or whether the temporary nature of deferred action will still be a deterrent. The education daily interviewed Luisa Havens, director of admissions and recruitment at the University of Texas at El Paso:

Two big issues remain, Havens said. One is the lack of certainty about work authorization. The other is lack of certainty about politics. "We are in an election year and someone else might be our president, who could take this back," she said.

...One student at Texas-El Paso, who asked not to be identified because she does not have authorization to live in the United States, said that she viewed President Obama's actions as a good first step but not a solution. A junior biology major who plans to seek a doctorate in physical therapy, the student said that she worried about being able to eventually obtain state licensure without some way to have long-term residency status in the U.S.

It's easy to think, "What's the point if I can't get a job?" she said.

But the student said that after years of waiting for the federal DREAM Act to pass, and not seeing progress there, Friday's action gave her hope that a subsequent step could build on the president's new policy. "We need something more in the future," she said. "But this gives me hope and keeps me motivated."


Of course, for everyone who qualifies for deferred action, there will be others who don't, either because they are over 30, have a less-than-clean record or have left the country during the previous five years, as the rules dictate. And they'll continue working much as they do now.

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