Immigration has become a highly charged political topic in the last few years, and the administration has attempted to defuse the tension with rational reforms. Immigrant children are a large presence in America’s schools, and ignoring their needs only reinforces prejudice and achievement gaps. Children of immigrants are the fastest growing U.S. population, and supporting them is supporting the nation’s future. Those who are in denial of this are denying a source of strength that is diversity.
There is no way to discuss the issue of immigration without coming from a strong foundation in education. After all, gaining a quality education and the opportunities it creates is one of the main reasons so many people immigrate to America. However, the biggest hurdle for immigrants making the most of their education is the challenge of learning and working in English. A notoriously difficult language to learn, many English language learners (ELL) find many emotional and culturally xenophobic roadblocks to applying their English skills. For example, many Americans simply discredit or will not respectfully engage with those persons who speak English with a foreign accent. In that context no matter how well an immigrant speaks English they are blocked in real communication.
However, Americans need to open up to a non-prejudiced approach to immigrants since they are increasing to rates whereby researchers speculate that Caucasians will be in the minority in fifty years. English language learning is booming;
While English language learners reside throughout the United States, they are heavily concentrated in Arizona, California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois. These six states contain 70% of the nation’s ELL population. Other states, including North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Georgia, have experienced a 300% increase in both ELL and immigrant student enrollment from 2001 to 2010. (Internationals Network for Public Schools)
While it is key to know where the ELL resources need to be focused, researchers emphasize that this is only one piece of the pie. Education immigration issues also include the fact that “Our nation’s schools are enrolling huge numbers of immigrants with little capacity to support these students, and English language learners are struggling to perform in existing educational environments with limited resources dedicated to ensuring their academic success” (Internationals Network for Public Schools). This issue becomes much more charged when the question of illegal immigration is introduced.
As the chart below shows, the rates of illegal immigrants in American schools is growing. However, to clarify, many of the students are legal, having been born in the country, but their parents are illegal: The figures come from a new report that says there were an estimated 11.2 million illegal immigrants in the United States in 2012 (the latest year for which there is data), the same as in 2009. (The report notes that the number of unauthorized immigrant adults with - born children may be higher than its estimates because these numbers do not include those who live separately from their children.) (Strauss)
President Obama signed an executive order protecting these families from being broken up through deportation, but the Supreme Court blocked his effort. NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia commented, “Today is a sad day for millions of students and their families…The Supreme Court decision will inflict further harm on the health and the educational opportunities of millions of children faced with fear and anxiety about separation from their parents” (Perez).
Minority and immigrant students typically fall into achievement gaps in part due to such stress as this complicating their development and education experience. The many programs, collaborations, and initiatives that President Obama has led education have been hard pressed through a resistant . He commented,
I think it is heartbreaking for the millions of immigrants who’ve made their lives here, who’ve raised families here, who hoped for the opportunity to work, pay taxes, serve in our military, and more fully contribute to this country we all love in an open way. (Perez)
The issue of immigrants in education has been largely misrepresented in the media, and this has not helped rational methods the administration has attempted to implement. One example of this divisive climate is: Alabama’s HB 56—the toughest enforcement measure to date—outlaws undocumented immigrants from attending public colleges, and requires K–12 public school teachers to verify their students’ legal status and report them to the state education board. The broader anti-immigration climate has further politicized the field of education, as seen in recent efforts to ban the teaching of ethnic or Latino studies in Arizona and elsewhere. (Oh and )
Currently America is experienced mass immigrations from Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean, which has drastically changed the face of the nation’s schools;
While school-age immigrant students represent the majority in New York City public schools (60%) and near-majority in California’s public schools (49%), immigrant families in recent years have also fanned out from traditional gateways to new destinations in the Carolinas, Mountain West, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest regions. (Oh and Cooc)
However, without and kind many immigrant youths find themselves feeling left out and unwanted. What many people do not realize is that diversity strengthens communities in many and that embracing and supporting immigrants is good for the economy. Researchers on this emphasize: Want to gauge your community's economic viability? Check to see if it can attract immigrants. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Midwest, where immigrant-attracting areas like Chicagoland and Minneapolis-St. Paul succeeding (relative to shrinking cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Cincinnati). (Williams)
Recent research into this issue reveals that America’s immigrant population is beginning to level off, and the number of Mexicans in the country has decreased in the past few years. This may be due to the increased hostility and nationalism of late. One example of the overt hostility,
towards immigrant students is the recent turn of forced exportation (Huffington Post). It has been observed, “Instead of focusing all of their efforts on violent criminals or convicted felons, ICE agents are seizing students at school bus stops and on their route to school—a practice that has resulted in a significant drop in attendance” (Snyder). What some Americans do not want to admit is that the country needs immigrants. The facts are:
Unauthorized immigrants make up 5.1% of the U.S. labor force. In the U.S. labor force, there were 8.1 million unauthorized immigrants either working or looking for work in 2012. Among the states, Nevada (10%), California (9%), Texas (9%) and New Jersey (8%) had the highest shares of unauthorized immigrants in their labor forces. (Krogstad and Passal)
When immigration hostilities rose in California there were not enough workers to pick the fruit, and many crops went to waste resulting in higher prices around the nation. Rather than facing threats, the government should make it easier for immigrants to learn English and become citizens as their contribution is needed (Brown).
Immigration issues in education and in culture have reached no kind of resolution, and the tensions continue to rise as this demographic is unjustly used as a scapegoat. America is one part of the growing trend of globalization, and immigrants help the nation stay functional and relevant. Efforts made by the Obama administration to support immigrant students have been blocked as people refuse to see past their own fear and prejudice. However, this is an issue that is not going away, and managing it rationally is what is needed.
1: Chart retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/11/21/how-many-k-12-students-are-illegal-immigrants/
2: Chart retrieved from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/19/5-facts-about-illegal-immigration-in-the-u-s/
Brown, Emma. “As immigration resurges, U.S. public schools help children find their footing.” The Washington Post, 7 Feb. 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/as-immigration-resurges-us-public-schools-help-children-find-their-footing/2016/02/07/6855f652-cb55-11e5-ae11-57b6aeab993f_story.html
Huffington Post. “Immigration Issues Pose Growing Difficulty For American Schools.” Huffington Post, 9 May 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/09/illegal-immigrants-education_n_859679.html
Internationals Network for Public Schools. “Immigration and Opportunity.” Internationalsnps.org, 2016. Retrieved from: http://internationalsnps.org/about-us/immigration-and-access-to-opportunity/
Krogstad, Jens Manuel and Jeffery S. Passal. “5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S.” Pew Research Center, 19 Nov. 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/19/5-facts-about-illegal-immigration-in-the-u-s/
NEA. “Immigration.” Nea.org, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.nea.org/home/immigration.html
Oh, Soojin, S., and North Cooc. “Editors’ Introduction.” Harvard Educational Review, (Fall 2011). Retrieved from: http://hepg.org/her-home/issues/harvard-educational-review-volume-81-number-3/herarticle/editors’-introduction_826
Perez, Felix. “Educators vow to stand with immigrant students, families despite court ruling.” Education Votes, 23 Jun. 2016. Retrieved from: http://educationvotes.nea.org/2016/06/23/supreme-court-dashes-hopes-millions-immigrant-students-families/
Snyder, Kate. “ICE raids creating an education problem, not solving an immigration crisis.” Education Votes, 23 Aug. 2016. Retrieved from: http://educationvotes.nea.org/2016/08/23/ice-raids-creating-education-problem-not-solving-immigration-crisis/
Strauss, Valerie. “How many K-12 students are illegal immigrants?” The Washington Post, 21 Nov. 2014. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/11/21/how-many-k-12-students-are-illegal-immigrants/
Williams, Conor. “The Real Immigration Debate.” U.S. News, 3 Dec. 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/2015/12/03/2016-immigration-debate-is-really-about-education