The issue of illegal immigration has reached a fever pitch. But what about those who are caught in the cross-hairs and did not even know it?
Economists at Bear Stearns, a leading Wall Street firm, tell us there are almost 20 million undocumented people living in the United States. Many of them are school-aged kids.
Angel, a 17 year old senior at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, CA, came here from Guatemala at the age of 4. Twelve years later, he realized he was undocumented. "I was going to get this job so I needed my Social Security number," he explains. "My mom said I did not have one. It was crazy; I've been here most of my life."
He's not alone. According to a recent article by Anne Ryman of The Arizona Republic, nearly 4,000 college students in Arizona were denied in-state tuition because they failed to prove legal residency. Like Angel, many teenagers who have been in the US for most of their lives are suddenly finding it difficult to remain here in this country that they've called "home" for so long.
"It's like, I'm glad [my parents] brought me here, but I do not know what I'm going to do later," says Angel.
The Pressure Is On
More than 185,431 people were transported from the US last year, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Arizona, Oklahoma, and Utah have passed new legislation that will make it tougher for undocumented immigrants to live and work in those states. Immigration law has become a hot-button issue for politicians across the country.
There Is Hope
While it can seem overwhelming, the US does offer several paths to legal residency. Under the right circumstances, even so-called "illegal aliens" can legally obtain a United States Visa. The good news for teenagers is: as long as they are under the age of 18, the government does not hold their undocumented status against them. There are options available to these children. But the quicker they act, the easier it will be. Adults over 18 may also have a good chance, especially those who have at least one family member who is already an American Citizen. Hardship Waivers, which can allow an undocumented person to legally stay in the US, are approved by immigration officials surprisingly often.
Learning the in's and out of US Immigration law can be complicated, but successfully navigating through them is the best chance for staying in the US for undocumented teens like Angel.