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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Confianza and Documentation in a Time of Trump

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)

Why *am* I here?

I’m reading over one of Dan Meyer’s blogs. The post explores what differnet mathematics bloggers are interested in and care about and testify on behalf of. The question(s) at hand is “Why are you here? What is your project? How do you testify on its behalf?”

I’m struggling to come up with an answer. On the one hand, I’m not 100% sure what my project is. On the other hand, I have some ideas that are very unfleshed out.

One of the things I find myself wondering about (and to some extent, exploring in this blog) is all the things that prevent our kiddos from accessing and learning mathematics. To some extent, this feels largely influenced by my context (all recent immigrants, many with interrupted formal education), but also feels like a question that all teachers struggle with.

Part of this struggle is that these stories are not mine to tell. Legally, I don’t want to share too much about my kiddos’ lives, especially names and sensitive information. That being said, there are certain trends, situations and traumas that surface and it feels important to recognize them, think about them, and honor that our kiddos are dealing with (and persisting through) them.

Another part of this struggle is that it sometimes feels like I’m making an excuse. So many blogs focus on all the amazing resources that are available to students of mathematics and the amazing work that they are doing. So thinking about why students aren’t learning feels like a copout (sometimes). “Such-and-such student is dealing with (XYZ situation) outside of school, so how can I expect them to be paying full attention today?” One of the things that I’m trying to push myself on this year is recognizing that kiddos need a moment and also helping them to realize that, if they take that moment and are able to get “back on the horse” (0ne of my favorite expressions from Joyce Dorado), they can (and are expected to) finish their work.

Trying to find this balance is hard. Many of our students are dealing with gaps in learning (among other things. Among many other things). At the same time, there is a (much needed) push for asset-based thinking at our school and recognizing that our kiddos can do many things. So when we run into situations like “Gordon can’t read” or “Sara doesn’t know how to divide”, what do we do? My current approach is to name and honor things that kiddos are struggling with (backed by evidence, not just my own subjective wonderings), but recognize that there are ways to get them to where we need them to be (Side note: Gordon read part of the objectives last week, which is a nice reminder that things improve with time and effort and that 9th grade at a school for emerging bilinguals can be hard).

So that’s my project for now. Exploring things that stand in the way of our kiddos’ learning and thinking about how to get them over that bump.

Related but unrelated: Schools are looking at different ways to respond to student trauma in an effort to reduce suspensions. The article looks specifically at training teachers in de-escalation techniques and more pull-in support. Article here.

Context: The Mathematics Twitter Blog-o-Sphere – a group of mathematics teachers who share their practice on the internet – is dedicating the month of August to writing a blog a day. It’s spearheaded by DruinOK. If you’re looking for ideas (and who isn’t?), prompts are here.

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Blog Catracho

Honduras has been in the news lately, especially as it relates to undocumented immigration. A lot of our students, quite a few who are undocumented or have Interrupted Formal Educations, are from Honduras.

God Doesn’t Live Here: Written by Cristina Silva, a writer who lived in Honduras, for about a year, to be nearer to her husband’s family, but eventually returned to the United States for safety reasons.

“The wave of migrant children made me think about my nieces and nephews in Tegucigalpa and their many cousins. I remembered how despondent I felt when I learned that their parents never took them to the park because they were too afraid. It made me angry that my 3-year-old nephew could nonchalantly recount the story of his favorite uncle’s murder. I  worry about what kind of men the boys will become when they live in a society where educational and professional success does not ensure personal or financial security.”

The Children of the Drug Wars: An article by Sonia Lazarro, who wrote “Enrique’s Journey” about the drugs and violence causing children to leave Latin American countries and how the US should respond.

To permanently stem this flow of children, we must address the complex root causes of violence in Honduras, as well as the demand for illegal drugs in the United States that is fueling that violence.

In the meantime, however, we must recognize this as a refugee crisis, as the United Nations just recommended. These children are facing threats similar to the forceful conscription of child soldiers by warlords in Sudan or during the civil war in Bosnia. Being forced to sell drugs by narcos is no different from being forced into military service.

Why the Border Crisis is a Myth: Written by a county judge in El Paso about how communities along the US-Mexican border have, are and should respond to increased immigration.

“This effort to take away rights that were granted when there was significantly less anti-immigrant fervor isn’t just shortsighted and expensive, it’s un-American. We can debate the wisdom of providing greater protection to Central American children than to Mexican children, but there can be no doubt that giving safe haven to a child facing violence in a country that cannot protect its most vulnerable citizens is what a civilized country, with the resources we possess, should do.”

It’s funny, in a way, that these articles are over a year old (yes, I am the slowest poster), but still seem relevant today.

To balance out heavy news:

Dando Buenas Noticias: My friend’s orphanage made this awesome video about HIV/AIDS prevention in Honduras. It’s amazing to see how much these kids know and how accessible health care is to them (when I worked in Ecuador 7 years ago, antiretrovirals were supposed to be free, but were not accessible).

What have you heard about Honduras?