Study: Citizenship can boost education levels for children of undocumented immigrants

May 30, 2013

By: Katie Kather

WBEZ/Katie Kather
Erendira Rendon in her office at The Resurrection Project. She is waiting for legislation that will allow her to be a US citizen once her deferred action expires.

Erendira Rendon is an undocumented immigrant, but deferred action status allows the 27-year-old to remain in the US.

Her family put her through college because she couldn’t apply for financial aid.

Her dad makes minimum wage at a local factory and her mom sells everything from Tupperware to Mary Kay cosmetics.

She said it would be great if the Dream Act were passed, but that’s not enough to help her family succeed.

“It needs to be a complete family legalization and pathway to citizenship that’s opened up in order to help each generation. Otherwise you’re just going to be helping one specific generation,” she said.

And Rendon isn’t alone in feeling this way.

A new study on second-generation Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles shows that the struggles of undocumented immigrants extend to their U.S.-born children and grandchildren -  especially when it comes to educational achievement.

Young Mexican Americans whose mothers were documented immigrants or US citizens had, on average, two more years of schooling than those whose mothers had entered the country illegally.

The researchers estimate that at least a third of the education gap between third‐generation Mexican Americans and native whites can be attributed to the grandparents’ unauthorized status.

The author of the study suggests that the only way to help future generations of Mexican-Americans is to provide a path to citizenship because that allows children to enjoy the “full societal” benefits of being an American. That includes social connections created in college.

Rendon has done well for herself. She now works as the senior community organizer for the nonprofit The Resurrection Project in Pilsen.

Her deferred action status only lasts two years. She can apply again but said she doesn’t know what she’ll do after that.

“This is the end of the line. There isn’t something else you can apply for until they are able to pass something in Congress,” she said.

Katie Kather is an arts & culture reporting intern at WBEZ. Follow her @ktkather