Concession: I am not an immigrant. I am not a lawyer.
I teach at a school where all the students are recent immigrants. My best guess is that at least a quarter of them are undocumented. As this is only a guess about extremely sensitive information, I’m assuming the actual number is higher. At one point, one of our counselors said that almost all of our recent arrivals from Latin America (Honduras, Guatemala, Salvador) were probably undocumented.
Most conversations about work, with non-coworkers, begin the same: “How are your students taking the election?”
I usually shrug. The answer is complicated. Our older students have been here longer. They are worried. Our 9th and 10th grade students are still adjusting to life in the United States. Most of them have arrived within the year. But they are also worried.
Conversations with teacher friends are different. We usually talk about mathematics and students who are struggling.
We rarely talk about the election or immigration status. If anything, I’ll bring it up with other teacher friends who teach at schools with lots of emerging multilinguals that likely have undocumented students.
Many teachers don’t know which students are documented or undocumented. “We don’t ask,” they say.
So here’s my push: You have to ask. Or at least know your students well enough to ask. Because, for newly arrived students (and I’m guessing with students who have been here longer, too), the legal system that they must navigate is massive. And it’s in Legalese English.
Which brings me to the second part: when you ask, you need to have options ready. You may not be a legal expert (I am certainly not), but you should absolutely know where to turn if a student discloses information about their documentation status. Our school counselor and our Wellness Center are a wealth of information on this front.
Some of the (amazing) teachers at our school had lawyers from a local clinic come to our school to talk about immigration status. We won’t know what to do until January 20, the lawyers said. He’s a loose cannon and unpredictible. [Edit: Sounds like things are happening. And they sound not great for immigrants.]
I’ve often been told that the structures and strategies that support emerging multilinguals support all students. So it’s fair to say that teachers should know all of their students well enough to support them through (and therefore inquire about) sensitive issues. But especially with so many unpredictible potential changes and consequences on the horizon, educators need to be able to ask and while they may not have the answers, they need to at least be able to point students in a solid direction.
(written over the course of several months, initially right after the election. I finally gave in and hit publish. Drafty and subject to revision, as is this entire blog)