An estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduating from American high schools every year face nearly insurmountable obstacles to attending college, according to a report released Tuesday by the College Board.
The result is a significant amount of "wasted talent" that "imposes economic and emotional costs on [the] students themselves and on U.S. society as a whole," the report said.
The report, "Young Lives on Hold: The College Dreams of Undocumented Students," notes that although undocumented students can legally attend college, they are effectively barred from doing so because they are ineligible for most forms of financial aid, including qualifying for discounted tuition rates available to other in-state residents.
It calls on Congress to pass what has been dubbed the "Dream Act." That legislation would allow undocumented students who were brought to the United States before age 16 and who have lived in the country for at least five years to apply for legal permanent resident status if they finish high school and subsequently attend college or join the military.
Gaining such status would open a new path to citizenship and allow those students to apply for financial aid.
"Undocumented students in the United States are currently trapped in a legal paradox," concludes University of Washington professor Roberto Gonzales, who wrote the report.
"They have the right to a primary and secondary education and are generally allowed to go on to college, but their economic and social mobility is severely restricted due to their undocumented status."
The argument over whether to provide financial aid or in-state college tuition rates to the children of undocumented immigrants has been a politically explosive issue in recent years.
Since 2001, when the Dream Act was introduced in Congress, 10 states have passed laws allowing undocumented students who graduate from in-state high schools to qualify for in-state tuition rates.
Advocates of the federal Dream Act, expecting a more friendly reception from President Obama and a strengthened Democratic congressional majority, are launching a new effort to pass the bill this year
Gonzales claims, contrary to the fears of some critics, that there is no evidence that easing financial aid requirements would lead to an influx of immigrant students displacing native-born students.
He also says it would not be a drain on public education budgets.
In fact, he claims, passing such a measure would boost overall school revenues by bringing in tuition from students who otherwise would not be able to attend college.
Critics remain unconvinced.
Two weeks ago, the Colorado legislature, after an emotional and heated debate, narrowly rejected a measure that would have granted in-state college tuition rates to undocumented residents.
"By rewarding those people who come here illegally with government services, we will only beget more illegal behavior in the future," Republican state Sen. Ted Harvey said, according to the Denver Post.
The Post also cited Republican state Sen. Bill Cadman, who said that granting students who are illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates is like saying that "if their parents robbed a bank, their kids could keep the money."
Gonzales insists that, over time, "given a chance, young men and women who are now undocumented will improve their education, get better jobs and pay more in taxes. … [Their] numbers are sufficient to contribute significantly to the growth of the higher-skilled labor force in the years to come."
The College Board report claims that children account for 1.8 million, or roughly 15 percent, of the undocumented immigrants living in the United States.