What Do I Say to Students About Immigration Orders?

Current events are hitting home with many students, and teachers have to be ready to talk about these topics. We know that, in many classrooms, students are asking about the recent events, including President Donald Trump’s executive orders.

Schools with immigrant, undocumented and refugee students are likely to see heightened anxieties and fears among students due to two executive orders: 1) a directive to start immediate construction on a border wall with Mexico and 2) a 90-day ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, and a 120-day suspension on refugee admissions into the United States (indefinitely for Syrian refugees). Recent U.S. population data shows that over 17 million children ages 18 and younger live with at least one immigrant parent. This means that students with direct ties to other countries account for about 25 percent of children in the United States—and these students are in our classrooms every day. We also know that immigrant and refugee students are more concentrated in particular states, school districts and schools.

 

So…What do I say to students?

 

Your voice—and other students’ voices—matter.  A full 80 percent of the educators who responded to a post-election survey described heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families. The biggest fear of all comes from immigrants; nearly 1,000 teachers specifically named “deportation” or family separation as a concern among students. In this context, it’s important to give your students a safe space to voice their fears and concerns. Depending on your grade level, this could be through academic conversations around a text or article, opinion writing prompts, artwork, journaling or simply a one-on-one during recess or lunch.

 

I’m here for you.  Students of all ages need to know they have an advocate and an ally in you. As their teacher, counselor, coach or administrator, students will look to you as a trusted adult outside of their family for help and optimism in the face of the unknown. As an educator, you are one of the first to witness the impact of increased enforcement against immigrant, unaccompanied and refugee students.

Also remind students that there are other people—beyond their classroom or school community—on their side. Find examples of office holders, volunteer attorneys, community members, activists and protesters who have issued statements (op-eds, social media posts, announcements, messages on posters and so forth) in support of students or students’ identity groups.

 

You have the right to be in this school, learning, no matter where you are from or what your citizenship or residency status is.  Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the landmark 1982 court case Plyler v. Doe ruled that public schools must enroll and register every child who resides in their geographic boundaries, regardless of the child’s or parents’ immigration status. This means that students are in a safe place while they are at school, and it is important to emphasize that repeatedly to students.

 

Here are the facts.  It’s hard to keep up with each new piece of information—and determine whether it’s true or an opinion—as the news is streaming in. It’s important not to let students repeat false information or perpetuate myths about immigrants and Muslims, as this can cause more anxiety and tension. Curate accurate, reliable articles for your students, and insist that they engage with facts.

 

There is a lot happening right now; it’s OK to be confused.  Sometimes educators don’t have the answers. Sometimes we stand before our students without the right words, and that’s OK. While we want the best for our students and their families, it’s important not to promise them anything you cannot guarantee. These are uncertain times and new policies and protests are happening simultaneously.

 

Source: http://www.tolerance.org   Submitted by Lauryn Mascareñaz on January 30, 2017

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