Immigration and Public Education

Except for our indigenous brothers and sisters, we in the United States are all descended from immigrants, whether voluntary or involuntary.  Caught once again in an era of intolerance, how quickly we forget that welcoming the stranger has been a blessing for us all.  The education of immigrant children is not only a smart investment; as an expression of the call to love our neighbors ad ourselves, it is also a moral imperative.  The issues of immigration and immigration enforcement affect the children in immigrant families and the public schools that serve those children.

The DREAM Act, Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors

Every year 65,000 young people graduate from high school and have nowhere to go. Unlike other students, these graduates cannot get a job, join the military, or qualify for in state tuition. These are young men and women who were brought to the United States as undocumented children. Many of them have no recollection of any other country than the one they grew up in. These are kids who persevered, staying in school sometimes against great odds and managed to obtain a diploma. These young people include high school valedictorians, honor students, musicians, athletes, and artists.  

The DREAM Act is the proposed law that, if passed, would grant these students the right to qualify for legal residency and eventual citizenship.  Some versions of this legislation have included the right to military service, employment, and eventual in-state college tuition and college scholarships. Currently these young people have no legally established path to a bright future. A large majority of the adolescents who would be assisted by passage of the DREAM Act have lived in the United States since they were young children. They have grown up here; in many cases they have no familiarity with another country to which they could return. By providing them a path to education and employment we will all benefit.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Faith and immigrants’ rights advocates celebrated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) announced June 15, 2013 by President Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano. However, we recognize that this is an impermanent solution, and that we must continue to work towards passing the DREAM Act to fully embrace and welcome these talented young people into our communities.

DACA will provide work permits and relief from deportation for youth who meet the requirements. Faith advocates have been working on this for a long time, following the lead of DREAM Act youth organizing to make DACA happen. The need for legal services in applying to DACA is tremendous and exponential as more eligible youth come forward. Within the first month of the program, which began on August 15, 82,000 youth applied for DACA and that number will continue to grow. There are approximately 900,000 that can currently apply to the program, but as many as 1.76 million youth eventually will have the.

All Children Residing in the U.S. Have a Right to K-12 Public Education

 In an important 1982 decision, Plyler v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed all children, even those from families who are undocumented, the right to public education.  School districts may not inquire about the immigration status of parents or children. Here is the relevant 2011 Guidance for school districts, from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, on the implications of Plyler v. Doe.  Here are accompanying educational materials... a Fact Sheet and Questions and Answers for School Districts and Parents.

UCC Resources

Justice and Witness Ministries 2010 Message on Public Education explores the politically charged issue of immigration as it affects public schools and children who are new to our country, their communities, and their schools.  As primary civic institutions, public schools reproduce the strengths and also the injustices in our society.  It is important for us as faithful citizens to reflect on ways we can work to make public schools more equitably serve all children. 

Justice and Witness Ministries 2008 Message on Public Education explores the theme of public education and the public good.  Elements of two cultural narratives, the Common Good and the American Dream, are embedded into the way we understand our public life. They are also used by politicians to manipulate us and sometimes to obscure the real issues. We are influenced by the narrative beneath the surface when laws and policies are framed in the language and assumptions of these familiar stories. As we explore the relevance of these two stories to the No Child Left Behind Act, the charter school experiment in New Orleans, the June, 2007 Supreme Court decision turning away from school integration, and the DREAM Act, we will try to discern the important role of the voice of the church. Each section is followed by discussion questions. 

Other Important Resources and Stories

April 22, 2013: Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco and Carola Suarez-Orozco, who have conducted research at UCLA about needed support for the adjustment of adolescents who emigrate to the United States, describe Immigrant Kids, Adrift and what is needed at school to assist them.

March 13, 2011 New York Times: Itinerant Life Weighs on Farmworkers' Children is the story of students and teachers in a school in Salinas, California and the impact of children moving from school to school as their parents move to pick lettuce.

Legal Issues for School Districts Related to the Education of Undocumented Children is an excellent new resource from the National School Boards Association and the National Education Association, a resource designed to help school districts meet the needs of undocumented children.    From the publication's introduction:  "This booklet discusses 13 legal questions commonly asked by school board members and school administrators related to undocumented students... Due to the limited legal precedent in this area, it is difficult to predict with certainty how courts would decide a case raising any of the questions discussed in this booklet.  However, this booklet provides tentative answers that are designed to help school districts minimize their legal risks in light of current law."  This publication is designed to help school districts protect the right to a public education for all immigrant children, a right that was guaranteed in the Plyler v. Doe U.S. Supreme Court Decision, in 1982.  If legal questions arise for children, your congregation should bring this resource to the attention of your school district.

October 24, 2010 New York Times Magazine, "Coming Out Illegal," describes the lives of several high achieving students at UCLA, all undocumented, all facing an uncertain future despite their academic accomplishments and the gifts they could share if they could exits from the shadows into careers or graduate school.

Here is an excellent new resource from the National School Boards Association and the National Education Association to help school districts meet the needs of undocumented children: Legal Issues for School Districts Related to the Education of Undocumented Children.  Your congregation can bring this resource to the attention of your school district.

Immigration Raids and Children

Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America's Children, a new report from the National Council of La Raza and the Urban Institute, explores how workplace raids by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), raids aimed at identifying and deporting undocumented adults, affect the children in those families and the institutions that serve those children. The report profiles three raids, in Grand Island, Nebraska; Greeley, Colorado; and New Bedford, Massachusetts.

In "Iowa School District Left Coping with Immigration Raid's Impact," Education Week tells the story of the spring 2008 Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) workplace raid at a meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa.  Public schools are always involved when a catastrophe strikes a community's children and families.

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