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Nov 19, 2014 10:43 PM

The Invisible Wall: The debate on immigration, education in NH


NASHUA - Each day undocumented children walk down the halls of New Hampshire's public schools. But it is unclear exactly how many, even in the two Granite State school districts with the largest immigrant student populations.

"We don't know because that's not a question we can ask under federal law," said Nashua superintendent Mark Conrad in reference to a child's immigration status.

"It really hasn't changed the way we do business in Manchester," said Manchester superintendent Debra Livingston. "When a student comes to us, registers, we consider them our student."

That is because federal law requires districts across the country to educate all children here legally or not through high school.

A 2014 U.S. Justice Department memo says," asking a child's immigration status may have a chilling or a discouraging effect on student enrollment."

But when it comes to college, the roughly 1.5 million unauthorized students in the United States confront a serious obstacle. While in most cases, undocumented students can get into college, paying for it becomes another story as they cannot apply for federal financial aid. According to the U.S. Department of Education, nearly 80 percent of students need federal financial aid to attend private colleges and about 40 percent require it for public universities.

"It's very tough and there are a lot of students that start out very young with ambitions to go to college and then once they hit ninth and tenth and eleventh grade and they realize it's a lot tougher because they're unable to access federal funds," said Fairgrounds Middle School counselor Scott Jaquith, who has worked extensively in the Nashua school district. He termed the road block to college the "invisible wall". Several years ago, Jaquith even wrote a book, Accepting the Challenge, about his experiences working with immigrant students.

"I think with our current system it's easy to give up hope, unfortunately because it's not an easy path and there isn't anyone at the finish line saying, Hey, come on. Come on let's do it,'" said Jaquith.

Jaquith said from his experiences, some undocumented children give up on the dream of college, finding odd jobs.

According to him, occasionally organizations offer scholarships to the undocumented, but students often fear applying for them, as they question what will come of admitting they are here in the United States without papers.

In very rare cases, Jaquith said those who can afford it return to their country of origin, in hopes of returning to a U.S. college legally, a process that can take years.

Making the path from the halls of New Hampshire high schools to a place in the U.S. economy an uncertain one.


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