Helping Dreamers Help Themselves

by Yvette Donado


PRINCETON, NJ – I welcome President Obama’s recent order suspending deportations of persons under age 30 brought illegally to the United States as children.

Having read many comments and analyses, I am struck by the small number of references to the implications of this measure for education. From my perspective at Educational Testing Service, the implications are many – and important.

First, more than 800,000 people benefit from the presidential order.  So they can now obtain legal documents, move about without fear of arrest and deportation, and more easily pursue their education (I hope those not already in school head for the admissions office).

Second, most are highly motivated.  And most grew up as patriotic residents, eager to become American citizens. They are “American” in every way except for a piece of paper.  So with a stroke of a pen, the President enables them to become more productive members of our society.  Education will do that (as a New York-born Puerto Rican from a working class family, I know what a good education means).

Third, these young people beat the odds, overcoming the challenges of poor and often undereducated parents who worked hard to provide for their families. They have inherited their parents’ will to sacrifice. Dreamers need to be allowed to pursue their dreams – not just for an education, but for a successful career.

Fourth, a large percentage of Dreamers are already in college. But merely counting how many are or are not getting an education is not enough. Despite being enrolled, they have had to live at least part of their existence in the shadows. Without legal status, without papers, they have had to compete for admission and employment.

Fifth, they do not lack motivation to study. Consider their incredible journey. The executive order has the effect of allowing them to travel down another path, an easier path. Although motivated, they cannot do it alone. They need our help to climb that education ladder and become fully productive members of our society. There is no reason for these productive residents to be invisible or feel shame.  Like the rest of America whose immigrants came here to improve their lives, that’s precisely what education and their new status will do for them.

We Latinos are fortunate – and our nation is fortunate – that our fine Hispanic organizations have shouldered the task.  Among them are the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, Hispanics Inspiring Students’ Achievement and Performance, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Council of La Raza, Parents Step Ahead, and the United States Hispanic Leadership Conference.

But beyond the academic institutions and the Hispanic organizations, each of us can play a role. So here’s how: 1) Help them find mentors; 2) make sure they get good guidance from counselors, including for assessments; 3) help their parents get involved in their education; 4) point them toward scholarships; and 5) provide summer jobs, internships and, ultimately, good jobs.

Helping these youngsters travel that education path is the right thing to do – for all the right reasons. Least of all, it helps you and me – and most importantly, it helps our nation.  

Yvette Donado is the Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of nonprofit Educational Testing Service, the world’s largest educational research and testing organization.

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