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)

WCYDWT: 200 Years of Immigration to the US

Math teachers (and I suspect other teachers) love to find interesting images and then ask each other: “What Can You Do With This?” It prompts a lot of good questions and gets people to engage in ways that a drafted, scripted curriculum often can’t. (As an aside, we often prompt our ELL kiddos by asking them “What do you observe?” “What do you wonder?”)

So, I ask you, “What Can You Do With This?”* “What do you observe? What do you wonder?”:

Captura de pantalla 2015-04-15 19.53.14

Useful phrases: “I observe _____.” “I wonder ____.”

I obviously have my own observations and wonderings, which I can share later.

*Images and data from Natalia Bronshtein, who credits them to the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.