As the Trump administration considers new requirements on immigrants and refugees seeking to enter the U.S., Nancy Gutierrez, the chief strategy officer at the NYC Leadership Academy, urges school administrators to address the fears of undocumented students in a new commentary for Education Week.
Citing evidence from the Pew Research Center, Gutierrez says there were roughly 725,000 undocumented students in K-12 schools in 2014 and 3.9 million students whose parents were undocumented. While U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are not permitted to detain students in schools, Gutierrez argues that schools should still have core values set up that won’t let a child’s or his or her family’s status interfere with the education process.
Administrators, she says, should “actively” deal with discrimination and xenophobia among students and staff members, create opportunities for dialogue that respects all viewpoints and focuses on building relationships, seek to provide accurate information to undocumented students and their families, and connect them with resources in the community.
Since President Donald Trump took office and began banning citizens of several Muslim countries from entering the U.S., school districts across the country have increased efforts to show support for immigrant and refugee students. School districts such as Denver, Chicago and many others have issued statements saying that ICE agents will not be granted access to schools without a criminal warrant.
And last fall, the Arlington (VA) Public Schools held a town hall meeting so students could express their concerns and posted resources for immigrants on school websites. Superintendent Patrick Murphy also issued a statement in March reiterating the district’s commitment to supporting students. “I want to assure all APS families that we are here to work with you to ensure that your children have a safe place to grow and learn, and that families and their beliefs will be respected in our schools.”
The American Federation of Teachers joined with other organizations to create a guide for educators working with immigrant and refugee students. Teaching Tolerance has also created a guide for educators outlining their role in working with undocumented students and their families. Harvard University education professor Roberto Gonzales says close relationships with teachers and counselors and mentoring programs can make a significant difference for undocumented students, especially as they enter adolescence. Facing History and Ourselves also provides curriculum resources that help to connect historical events to current issues.