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Let’s Make America More Just for Our Immigrant Students and Families

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Better Conversation Black students COVID-19 DACA Defend DACA Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals educational equity equity family separation Home Is Here indigenous students Latinx Students New York City opportunity gap racism Rosario Quiroz Villarreal Students of Color Trump Administration Undocumented Immigrants undocumented students xenophobia

Let’s Make America More Just for Our Immigrant Students and Families

Let’s Make America More Just for Our Immigrant Students and Families

When we think of education equity, we typically think of issues along the lines of traditional opportunity gaps disproportionately affecting children of color. As equity-minded educators, our thoughts may automatically go to how to improve practices in the classroom to improve academic outcomes for those children, so that their future can be painted with more opportunity than what is currently present. 

But we all know the classroom is only part of the story. There are always societal complexities being laid on top, and never have they been clearer than in the present moment as we are continuing to reel from the inequities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, while simultaneously asserting that Black Lives Matter and we have had enough of this country’s racist pandemic. 

When it comes to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Supreme Court protected the program on Thursday, ensuring that undocumented immigrants who are eligible as originally outlined in 2012 can newly apply for two-year work permits and protection from deportation or continue renewing their temporary status. DACA, and the stints of relief it provides, was designed as a temporary solution—it created a window of time for Congress to move on securing and expanding the widely successful program through permanent solutions for DACA beneficiaries. The Senate has stalled that progress, and while DACA beneficiaries are temporarily protected from losing their work permits or being deported, only action from Congress can truly protect the DACAmented community and their families.

Family Separation Is An Education Equity Issue

Family separation due to mass incarceration and detention is an education equity issue because it is detrimental to children. Children in Black communities are especially likely to deal with the incarceration of family members; children in Native American and Latinx communities are also disproportionately affected. Family separation also affects immigrant communities, where children in mixed-status and undocumented families deal with the detention and deportation of parents. 

Under the racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant Trump administration which, threatened to deport DACA recipients had the Supreme Court allowed it, Congress cannot be allowed to delay action on permanent protections any longer, and educators must make their voices heard in support of their immigrant students and families.

Who Are DACA Recipients?

While the public’s image of a DACA recipient is typically a young immigrant college-goer, that single story excludes many of the 650,000 current DACA recipients, who fall within the range of 17-39 years old. That narrative cannot continue to exclude the much broader reality of who DACA recipients are.

They are parents.   

They are educators. 

They are essential workers. 

DACA impacts them—and the families, students and communities they serve.

We as educators cannot act as if the Supreme Court’s DACA decision does not impact our students simply because they are not directly benefiting from DACA. When Trump was elected president, so many of us witnessed how anti-immigrant rhetoric pained our students, including our students who are U.S. citizens. We heard their foreboding fear: “The president is going to take my parents away.” 

As Professor James Cummins said in “Empowering Minority Students,” schools “reproduce the power relations that characterize the wider society.” Decades of research show that out-of-school factors can have a huge influence on students’ educational outcomes. If we truly want to improve outcomes for our students, we have to recognize that the issues they and their families face are not separate, unfortunate concerns. For our students of immigrant backgrounds, our students with immigrant teachers, and our students from mixed-status families, their communities are currently under attack.

As educators do the demanding work of teaching under the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, many might choose to keep their heads down and focus on caring for the students in their classrooms. Ignoring the issues that seem beyond our jurisdiction may seem easier but it’s far from right, and many educators have already experienced their work getting harder because of anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Focusing only on the classroom does not change the broader national policy context. If we feel tired and disillusioned, imagine our students and families. Imagine the added layer of anxiety generated by an administration that openly attacks your community and seeks to tear your family apart, on top of the effect the pandemic is already having on all of us. 

Our Students And Families Need Advocates

Our students need advocates. They need champions. They need permanent solutions. So do their families. When we can take action to prepare to support our students and advocate for better policy solutions that do not unjustifiably target or criminalize their communities, we need to do so. 

Let’s make the wider society more just for our immigrant students and their families. Let’s help send a powerful message that they belong and that they deserve better. We can’t do this alone, but we can collectively let the government know that the education system recognizes the value of the Supreme Court’s decision and won’t silently stand for any harmful attack on our immigrant students and families.

To that end, the Education WorkGroup with the Home Is Here coalition, including Next100, Teach for America, the National Education Association EdJustice, ImmSchools, Immigrants Rising, the American Federation of Teachers, Chiefs for Change, United We Dream, and the National Immigration Law Center have developed the #HomeIsHere PreK-12 Toolkit. This toolkit provides information for educators, families, school leaders, and district and state leaders on how to take action now that the Supreme Court has announced their DACA ruling, including resources to support the field’s understanding of: 

  • The rights of all students, regardless of immigration status.
  • Best practices for supporting students; how to make your voice heard; and ways to advocate with elected officials.

If you lead a school district or education advocacy organization, help advocate for permanent protections for DACA recipients.

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