July 3, 2012

A Fair Shot For Thousands More Connecticut Young People

Jamey Bell, J.D.

Student graduatePresident Obama’s Executive Order permitting certain young immigrants to remain in the United States and work here legally will help young people across the country have the chance to finish school, work, and live as productive and contributing adults.  The new policy allows young immigrants (under age 30) to legally work and obtain drivers’ licenses if they:

  • came here before age 16, and
  • have been in the U.S. for at least five years and are in school, are high school graduates or are military veterans.

A fact sheet from the National Immigration Law Center outlines more details.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that between 11,000 and 20,000 young people in CT may benefit from policies like this one.  The stories many of these young people tell are compelling.  They finish high school at the top of their class, obtain education and training so they can contribute their labor, skills and passion to the communities they call home.  Yet, because of their immigration status, they cannot work, plan for the future, or realize their dreams.

I spoke with a young advocate, Armando Ghinaglia, who told me that undocumented students feel that getting ahead is a big struggle for them compared to their peers.  "Now they feel they have a new hope.  They tell me, 'I can drive, I can work, I can go to college,'' he told me.

In my last blog post, I invoked the moral wisdom of Dr. Seuss on our obligations to children.  I’m lately reminded of the words of another moral leader in our time, Nelson Mandela, who said:  “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Providing opportunity to all children in our state is simply the humane, moral and responsible thing to do.  But it’s also, happily, the economically and fiscally sound policy.  It will be a benefit to Connecticut’s still-struggling economy, in the short and long term, because of Connecticut’s particular demographic profile:  Connecticut is aging, and needs all the young people it can get to work here, graduate from high school and college ready to work, and contribute, in taxes and otherwise, to support their communities.

Connecticut Voices for Children recently produced a report showing that closing Connecticut’s opportunity gaps will be necessary for the future economic health and quality of life in the state.  A growing number of retirees and an increase in lower-paid minority populations mean that Connecticut is losing higher-income workers (older, more educated whites) while adding lower-income workers (younger, less educated minorities).  This convergence of demographic trends will hamper the state’s economic growth and its ability to pay for the growing costs of an aging population.  

To help raise incomes of lower-wage workers, we recommended investments in education and training.  It will also help if we allow young people already in the state, and educated, to enter the work force, and, we hope, stay here.  Not only would Connecticut have the benefit of their tax payments and their spending, but, as our staff demographer Orlando Rodriguez points out, “Young people have children, which require lots of spending, and they also have growing incomes.  Older people spend less and have flat or declining incomes.”  The new deferred-action policy for young immigrants is a win-win for Connecticut.  As one of those “older people” I am self-interestedly invested in the success of all Connecticut’s young people.  And as an advocate for children and families, I am gratified by what it reveals about our society’s soul.

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Education, Family Economic Security