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OPINION:  The Missing Link in Immigration Reform

Yvette Donado is the Chief Administrative Officer and Senior Vice President, People, Process and Communications, for Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J.

In recent weeks, immigration reform has garnered everyone’s attention, including policymakers on both sides of the aisle. At this point, we cannot foresee what the bill will look like, but there will be a bill. The big question, however, is what happens after it passes, particularly with regard to educational opportunities for more than 11 million residents?

Last July, the Obama administration decided not to deport children of undocumented immigrants. I wrote then that little attention was being given to the need for easier access to educational opportunities for those who would be coming out of the shadows.
Now is the time to prepare to address the education needs of these 11 million persons who we hope will, regardless of the nature of citizenship pathways in the bill, become full-fledged, lawfully present, productive residents.

Imagine a physician from another country who, because of his or her current immigration status, drives a cab or works in a field other than medicine. That person, , came here without records of his or her academic credentials and has little, if any, prospect of acquiring them easily from the country of origin. 

Multiply that by the tens of thousands — or millions — of future “regularized” residents who, despite good intentions and many sacrifices, lack proof of the education and experience that qualifies them for work in their profession or trade. Holding them to the same documentary requirements as citizens and current legal residents would prove to be an impossible task.

Here’s what needs to happen:

1) Employers and academic institutions, from high schools to graduate programs, must be flexible.

2) Private sector and educational institutions must equip themselves with skilled counselors to attract, employ, train, educate and develop workers and students.

3) Newly enfranchised residents must recognize that credentials matter to employers and academic institutions, and that scores on a high school equivalency, college admission or English-language test carry weight, even if they are not required for a job or a place in an academic program. Tests help level the playing field, eliminating superficial judgments based on country of origin, native language or English proficiency.

4) Latino organizations, schools, counselors and others must help build a college-bound culture in the families of newly documented persons. The journey to a more productive role can be made easier through education of the entire family.
Latino organizations, schools, universities and government agencies at all levels must provide efficient services to smooth that journey.

The legislative path is unpredictable. What is predictable is that this issue will be addressed –  and soon. Through efficient implementation of the law, by providing helpful services and by creating greater educational opportunities, they can become more productive, pay more taxes, improve bottom lines and empower their families.