O’Connor: Push for NY undocumented immigrants to be professionally certified counteracts ‘American Dream’

More than 4 percent of New Yorkers are out of the workforce, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the state education department’s Board of Regents.

The regional governing body recently announced that DREAMers, individuals who came to the United States illegally with their parents before age 16, can be licensed to teach in public school districts. The ruling comes after President Barack Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order that allowed undocumented immigrants to be legally employed. But it didn’t give immigrants professional licenses.

New York state has since taken it upon itself to propose handing out these official documents for more than 50 different careers, a prospect that will be officially voted on in May. And the license that has been met with the most controversy is the teaching certification because undocumented immigrants will now be just as eligible as legal citizens to be hired as public school teachers.

Immigration to the United States, when done legally, should be encouraged because this is the land of opportunity and it is mutually beneficial when immigrants can contribute to the labor force. Yet it’s hard to see how schools are the right place of employment for individuals who are only here because their families broke the law. People who have properly come into the country should not be stripped of employment opportunities because undocumented immigrants chose not to.

The crux of the problem lies within the board’s rationale to expand on the DACA program in giving undocumented immigrants a chance to succeed in the United States. It just doesn’t make sense to pass legislation for those who have ignored the United States’ rules for their own gain when there are already plenty of law-abiding citizens contributing to society.

The certification measure also sets a dangerous precedent at a time when even New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is moving to legalize voting for undocumented immigrants. And to reject these policies would better protect the about 480,300 New Yorkers that were unemployed as of January, according to the state department of labor.

In addition to being unfair to U.S. citizens, it is also unclear how exactly the Board of Regents’ policy will help undocumented immigrants themselves. According to Chalkbeat, New York is already an extremely competitive place to secure a job in a teaching profession, considering only one in three graduates of the state’s teacher preparation programs are able to obtain a job.

According to Newsmax, 3.8 percent of New York’s population is made up of undocumented immigrants. That’s about 750,000 people based on 2012 data from the Pew Research Center. With such a small number of available regional teaching jobs, it is clear the Board of Regents has its priorities backwards. Rather than simplifying the certification process, improved employment prospects should be wielded as an incentive to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

This method would shift the focus to accentuate the incentive to become legal in an approach that becoming documented would mean increased exposure to educational resources to pursue a professional career accordingly.

But, instead, the irrational policy would give undocumented individuals the opportunity to work in fields including engineering and dentistry. The regional expansion of these industries for employment have been supported by New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia, who claimed that even when immigrants are often barred from obtaining proper licensing to work even when they have done everything properly.

As reflected by Elia’s efforts, it is understood that the measure would provide previously unavailable opportunities for both immigrants and the public education system alike.

“Anything that can be done to increase the pool of qualified teachers may raise the quality of education,” said Kristi Andersen, a political science professor in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, in an email. “I also think that immigrant children may benefit directly from having teachers who share their experience of learning a new language and adapting to a new home.”

But this approach is flawed, as highlighted by the politically-involved individuals who were quick to denounce the Board of Regents’ plan. Hans von Spakovsky, a former U.S. Justice Department attorney and senior legal fellow at conservative organization Heritage Foundation, declared that the board’s decision has breached the country’s immigration code. And New York State Senator Terrence Murphy blasted the board for following unelected bureaucrats, including Elia, who have their priorities backwards.

Von Spakovsky and Murphy are right in their arguments that the U.S. marketplace shouldn’t be forced to open its door to those who have snuck across the international boundary, considering that the board’s judgment may have even violated federal immigration law in the same way that it threatens U.S. citizens’ livelihood.

In 2015, a Rasmussen survey recorded that 51 percent of Americans felt that immigrants without permits were taking jobs away U.S citizens — a unnerving finding that exacerbates the neglect of U.S. citizens at the hands of the Board of Regents.

Rather than perpetuate employment anxiety, the country’s politicians and governing bodies shouldn’t be turning their backs on the people who went through the system appropriately and shouldn’t be giving undocumented immigrants the opportunities that could have otherwise benefited legal citizens in a country of that is defined by rules and borders.

As long as people flow across the border without abiding by immigration laws, they shouldn’t be given the opportunity to have a teaching license. When jobs start to open up, legitimate U.S. citizens should be the first ones to apply for the position.

It isn’t that people who came to the United States with their parents illegally aren’t as qualified teachers as legal residents. But public school administrations need to select the most ethical candidates — candidates who have followed the legal route to citizenship.

Kyle O’Connor is a sophomore sport management major and political science minor. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at


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