Immigrants and refugees have faced a lot of uncertainty with recent political upheaval. Certainly, families with children face especially high levels of anxiety, since they may fear, at worst, being separated, or at least, being targeted or questioned at schools. Thankfully, federal laws guarantee that every school-aged child can receive access to education regardless of their immigration status, and schools are prohibited from sharing information with other government entities that may reveal immigration status. Finally, while not written into law, schools are designated as a sensitive location where immigration raids should not occur.
Despite these factors that make schools safe havens for all students, families are still seeking reassurance, and schools and teachers can provide support through a number of measures. Teaching Tolerance has published a Guide on Immigrant and Refugee Children for Educators and School Support Staff with a lot of information. Most of the suggestions fall into three categories:
- Make clear, public statements, often, in as many languages as possible, that the school welcomes and affirms students and families
- Be proactive in providing information on family rights, immigration law, helping families make plans in the case of a raid, and identifying designated point people for families and students to confidentially talk to about immigration concerns
- Partner with community organizations and firms that can support the needs of undocumented students and offer attorney support or counseling
Another timely, relevant resource is a report from the Migration Policy Institute on Serving Immigrant Families Through Two-Generation Programs. This report discusses 11 programs across the nation that are successful at meeting the needs of both students (via welcoming, supportive school resources) and their families (via adult ESL and literacy offerings, employment assistance, and immigration support). While such programs are challenged by the diverse needs different families bring to school, the success stories set a benchmark for other schools who wish to affirm and support immigrant and refugee families.
While the political climate may feel shaky with regard to our work as language educators, it is an opportunity to demonstrate courage for and solidarity with our students.