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prospect | Challenges Immigrant Youth Face with US Public Schools

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (right)’s recent decision to use public funds to pick up Venezuelan migrants from Texas and fly them to the politically liberal island of Martha’s Vineyard has garnered huge media attention – which he intended to do.

What is too often overlooked in the national immigration policy debate is the plight of migrant children who come to the United States and want to go to school. Legally, they are allowed to attend public schools, although they face many hurdles before they can sit in a classroom and after enrolling.

This post discusses these challenges. It was written by Sophia Rodriguez, assistant professor of urban education at the University of Maryland at College Park and author of the recent book “Race frames in education. » Her research examines how school and political contexts welcome and include Latino/x immigrant youth and how community-school partnerships increase access to resources and opportunities for immigrant youth. At U-Md., she directs the Immigrant Ed Next Labwhich includes several research projects aimed at promoting research and policy advocacy relevant to immigrant youth.

Note: This post includes a number of quotes from people Rodriguez interviewed during his research on the basis of maintaining their anonymity. I left them in because they are necessary to tell the story.

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Many migrants, especially unaccompanied youth, face uncertain journeys in detention and after release into local communities. Schools are often the first and sometimes the only places they can turn to for resources. Research shows that every day educators had to deal with the aftermath of recent political charadesas well as a broken immigration system, racialized immigration oversight, deplorable conditions in detention centers and a lack of access to educational and social resources for these young people.

Newly arrived migrants are a permanent reality that schools have to deal with, and they don’t have the luxury of politics. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (right) recently used taxpayer funds transporting about 50 Venezuelan migrants, including young people, from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, a move that does nothing to address the real flaw in immigration policy. To cite just one example, schools and local communities and schools tend to be necessarily pragmatic actors in the face of the influx of unaccompanied migrant newcomers. Yet challenges remain in this effort to provide a place of belonging.

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Young unaccompanied newcomers

From August, more than 10,000 unaccompanied children were in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and were entitled to shelter and education while in detention. The United States sets a not accompanied minor as an immigrant under the age of 18 who is not in the care of a parent or legal guardian at the time of entry, who is left unaccompanied after entry, and who is not have no family member or legal guardian willing or able to care for them in the country of arrival. These children are part of a large global group of migrants who move to the United States due to high rates of violent crime, gang violence and recruitment, and severe economic insecurity in their home country.

Upon arrival in the United States, unaccompanied minors face strict and often inhumane policies, mistreatment, mistreatment, deplorable conditionsand legal procedures designed to keep large numbers of them in detention. Many find their physique and mental well-being at risk. Additionally, these young people face educational barriers, but the schools and districts that serve these students lack federal financial aid and depend on ad hoc local support systems.

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Educational rights and challenges

Since 2017, I have interviewed and observed more than 100 unaccompanied and undocumented immigrant youth, as well as hundreds of educators, administrators, advisers, social workers and mediators between schools and the Refugee Resettlement Office. I learned that new arrivals are arriving daily, depending on migration flows, and immediately rely on schools to support them. A coordinator for newcomers to the Mid-Atlantic said, “It’s everything from signing up to buying clothes.” Recently, confronted with newcomers from Venezuela, an educator from the northeast said: “We are struggling. We make calls and partner with local organizations. Another explained how “the [education and immigration] make it difficult for these young people to access resources and, in some cases, enroll in school – a basic condition right to education they have. Finally, a service provider and former adviser, notes: “There are resources in this country, but they are not well coordinated.

Long-term research from multiple sources confirms these observations and reveals three major educational challenges: complicated school enrollment processes, lack of resources or misplacement, and fears of enforcement of immigration and in local communities.

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To enroll in US public schools, families must first provide multiple documents and navigate complicated systems. For unaccompanied newcomers, providing proof of residence, a birth certificate and a vaccination record can be a considerable obstacle. Some districts in the United States have decided not to require documentation, with a district official explaining, “We have a big problem with immigration taking all their documents away from them and not providing them with the proper documents, especially in detention. Most of the time, unaccompanied young people have nothing. ZERO.”

Another respondent echoed the difficulty of registering students who were detained upon arrival in the United States: “When children are released to a sponsor [family member or distant relative]. They don’t even have anything showing that they are the parent or parent. We have to dig through the packets of immigration-related documents they have.

Online registration systems also exclude immigrant families due to language barriers. Between the complicated nature of the immigration system and the seemingly arbitrary requirements to enroll in school, “connecting the dots” is all one can do.

(Poor) allocation and (dis)coordination of resources

Although unaccompanied children have the right to go to school, it is more difficult to claim appropriate services. State and local decision makers contribute to these difficulties when resources are lacking or understaffed to support newcomers, and multiple state and local agencies are involved. One educator noted, “There are resources, but they haven’t been well coordinated to meet the needs of these students. When I talk to people who interact with unaccompanied youth, I hear how common understaffing and inadequate capacity are, and often the bureaucratic nature of school systems makes it difficult to access legal, financial or of mental health.

Once at school, unaccompanied young newcomers face other constraintssuch as the lack of resources and academic and socio-emotional support in their schools, the lack of quality and cultural support program, and a lack of social workers and counselors whose backgrounds and language skills reflect the culture of newcomers. The constraints they encounter can contribute to a lack of belonging and a positive sense of self. As we continue to see newcomers arrive, school is a major space for socializing and acquiring knowledge and skills. Despite their rich cultural heritageschools do not always exploit them.

Anti-immigrant climate and the need for trauma-informed approaches

Even where resources exist, pre- and post-migration trauma, due to separation from family or fear of immigrant raids, persists. While my research participants are certainly aware of the needs of immigrant students and families, many school staff are not, which puts children at risk. In many of the communities I study, school staff themselves hold exclusionary beliefs. Anti-immigrant sentiment only compounds existing trauma and can deter unaccompanied youth from seeking help, even if they or their families are living under the threat of deportation. One educator noted how unaccompanied young people “live with the trauma of having had family members deported since their arrival or separation during migration.

“They also live in constant fear of being deported. They walk the halls hearing ignorant staff members [in their schools] calling them “illegal or alien” or other similar references. »

Human answers and a way forward

One councilor proclaimed in the Mid-Atlantic, “Let’s not pretend these families aren’t here” as a step toward finding solutions. Rather than paying excessive attention to politics and the spectacle of immigrants flying to random places like the incident at Martha’s Vineyard, any policy aimed at improving the lives of newcomer unaccompanied minors must address the considerable obstacles these young people encounter before and after immigrating to the United States, the need for coordinated resources. In other words, actors in the education systems and social services must communicate and join forces to coordinate their efforts.

Overall, coordination efforts would ensure that resources are properly allocated between federal, state, and local education systems. Some agencies have already been provide advice for information on how to register unaccompanied students. Additional support is needed, such as federal resources, legal assistance, mental health care, and health insurance. From there, school districts can work to improve staffing and service coordination. In many cases, participants shared that the burden of support is in the “hands of the few” when it should be the district and the schools that carry the burden. Being human towards these young people means “not pretending that they are not there”, but welcoming them and valuing them.

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