The Challenges of Undocumented Youth Is Our Story!

In America, there are millions of undocumented immigrant families. One would think that ensuring citizenship would be viable for our economic development however, the root of race is based on domination, power and control. It appears as if we accept the labor and contribution of immigrants within this country; but, our country isn’t willing and progressively working to provide citizenship to empower immigrants. I believe that we aren’t doing enough to ensure that immigrants become acclimated to our country but rather using them for what they can do to benefit our county with little to no benefit to them and unfortunately their children.

During a class on Family Engagement at Harvard, Professor Roberto Gonzales talked about his fifteen years of research and over ten years of community work around advocacy for undocumented youth. One of his key advocacy points argues that there are conflicting and contradictory laws move drive the exclusion of undocumented youth. Please research and read, Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America. Oakland: University of California Press, Chapter 3.

The challenges of undocumented youth is our story. Here’s why! As Americans, regardless of race, we all have ancestry that tells similar stories of current immigrant families. The connection of ELL (English Language Learners) is not limited to Spanish-speaking families. One of the key issues around race and culture in America is that it’s so heavily focused on black and white. What about those in-between? Many families and youth who are undocumented live through and experience similar challenges that lower-income families in America experience as well. As many families that have come through this country and overcome the challenges of being immigrants, you would think that there would be more advocacy and support for immigrant families. Of course, our American culture says NO to immigrants as the majority of us wanted the same culture to say YES! For example, in my former district, we advocated with non-English speaking families for the District Student Handbook to be printed and provided in Spanish. It took new department leadership to finally get the District to put the handbook online for non-English speaking families. Here’s the kick, having it online met “compliance” standards but did it truly reach the families that needed it? Imagine how many school Districts across this country don’t provide adequate resources to non-English speaking families. Then think about other subgroups, Special Education, Black boys, homeless, migrant, youth in system (foster care, juvenile, etc) aren’t adequately being served either. The challenge of undocumented youth in schools is like many of our children. They become victims of District whose leaders push compliance and perpetrate engagement.

Disconnection of “community” and displacement of undocumented youth is another example of how their stories connect to us. If you’ve been displaced because of homelessness, gentrification, lower socioeconomic status, family tragedy, etc., then you understand what these youth and families are experiencing. Place, where we live, our communities, the village that provides a sense of belonging reinforces inclusion. Of course, when we are displaced, we experience exclusion. Many of our children are in this space. Now, think about the role that schools that reinforce exclusion through labels aka sub groups that essentially mark students. These students are being excluded because of economics, socialization, data (stereotypes) and labels (prejudices).

How can we identify the “excluded” within our schools?

  • ELL/migrant students
  • Undocumented youth within our community
  • Foster care
  • Homeless
  • Lower income
  • Racial subgroups (defined by achievement, attendance and behavior)

In our family engagement class, we learned that there is a deeper connection of immigration laws to the historical context of slavery and Jim Crow in America. As race has historically been used to created domination, power and control, these ideals continue poor immigration laws and support for people who enter into this country as “other”!

Here’s what we can do to help build advocacy and change this:

  1. Create diverse educational pathways for immigrant students
  2. Promote family and community engagement best practices that engage all families
  3. Have an advocate in place to drive policy change and development
  4. Utilize an alternative space through communities to reach and empower immigrant families

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