On creating more safe and inclusive school environments for immigrant students
Prior to the pandemic, decades of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have led to immigrant families not seeing schools as places they can trust. Any space they could create between the schools and themselves was a way of keeping their families safe.
COVID-19 hit our families, many of whom identify as Latinx, extremely hard. The pandemic has exacerbated many of the existing challenges experienced by immigrant students and families—access to health care, mental health resources, food, rental assistance, and so many other basic necessities that were intensified as a result of job losses. We see this firsthand at ImmSchools. When you add immigration status, many of our families avoided going to the doctor, even if they had COVID-19 symptoms, because they were afraid of being deported.
I envision a place where our students are coming in, knowing they can thrive and that they can do anything they dream of without having to think about their immigration status.”
I was formerly an undocumented student myself. I understand what it feels like when you go somewhere and they ask you for documentation that you don’t have. I know how it feels when you go home as a kid and you’re afraid that you might not find your parents there.
What I have learned working with K-12 schools is that the voices of our immigrant students and families have been systematically erased and silenced. But our immigrant families are not silent. They have a voice. We don’t have to guess or assume what they need. We can ask them. Right now, there are no opportunities for families to engage with the school district in a language they speak. Teachers are depending on Google Translate or asking one of their third graders to translate—that’s not the responsibility of our students. It is the responsibility of the school system to find professional translators, so that families know what’s happening and have the opportunity to help schools craft a path forward.
I hope that this can be a reset button for the education system, so that all students, no matter their immigration status, can see schools as safe and inclusive spaces. If students go to schools where they feel they can bring their whole selves, where they don’t have to leave their immigration experiences outside the door, schools can become places where our students feel like their language, their culture, their values are an asset to the school community. I envision a place where our students are coming in, knowing they can thrive and that they can do anything they dream of without having to think about their immigration status.