Why Deporting Parents of Unaccompanied Minors is a Horrible Idea

I’m grading unit tests, so today involves a lot of heavy sighing.

Then I read this article, about 2 draft memos signed by Secretary of Homeland Security on Friday that could prosecute parents of unaccompanied minors (youth who emigrate from their countries by themselves, without an adult) for smuggling.

Much more sighing.

Let’s talk about why deporting or prosecuting parents of unaccompanied minors is a horrible idea.

A bit of background: At least in our district, many parents emigrated long before their students, most likely hoping to establish themselves or find a way to send money while their children were younger. Then, for a number of reasons (violence in the home country, wanting to be closer to the family, etc), they send for their children to come later. These children are the unaccompanied minors.

First, these youth and their families are often fleeing horrible conditions (like ones in Honduras and El Salvador). I heard of one student who wasn’t able to get a transcript from his home country to get credits for his prior studies.

“It’s fine,” I said, “we’ll just Skype the school.”

“No, mister,” he said, shaking his head. “They shot the principal.”

Another student arrived at our school after the semester. Shortly after, she found out that one of her closest cousins had been murdered back in her country.

I can’t imagine a family who would choose to stay in those conditions and subject their children to them if they had another option.

Second, these families are already facing so many issues upon reunification. I have one student who hadn’t lived with their mother for 8 years. Now, they are here, trying to figure out how to live with someone who they, on the one hand, are so overjoyed to see (“All I want is for my mother to be happy and say good things about me,” this student has said repeatedly) and on the other hand, feel (rightfully) abandoned by. Side note: Very few of our family meetings end without tears on someone’s part. Other side note: This isn’t actually one student. It’s four students.

And this is to say nothing of dealing with issues that typical families go through (discipline, puberty, grades, etc) let alone immigrant families (discrimination, culture shock, etc).

For teachers and community members, these issues are further complicated because we don’t know who these issues apply to. After a few years, I’m beginning to notice patterns and find ways to see trends (I’m also gutsier about just asking my advisees, though I 100% recognize that this is due to an amazingly positive, trusting culture that our school has worked hard to create). But it’s not always easy to know who is undocumented or who may be an American citizen with undocumented parents. I say this, not to say that we should label people, but because, in order to support undocumented immigrants and connect them with the right services, we need to know who they are. I fully understand that undocumented immigrants are afraid of disclosing their status, but we have to figure out ways to help them.

Needless to say I’m upset by the possibility of these draft memos. I can only imagine what our kiddos and their families are thinking.

Post-script: People seem to be reflecting on a Day Without an Immigrant. This article about how some teachers responded (hint: not positively) fills me with rage. One of my classes was pretty much unaffected, one was 50% empty, and the rest were somewhere in between.

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