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We’ve all seen images of migrant caravans comprised of thousands of asylum seekers from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador making their way to the U.S. to find refuge from the poverty and violence in their home countries. “This,” according to President Trump via tweet, “is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”
Trump’s words have cast our neighbors as enemies.
And his inflammatory use of language is infecting others. An October 2018 Associated Press headline dubbed the caravan an “army of migrants.” While the AP changed the headline after the backlash they received, a commenter on Fox News Network’s Fox and Friends doubled down on the sentiment, saying, “They [terrorists] are a threat to our national security because today, war — it’s not only countries that go to war, it is groups such as ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and they have declared war openly against the United States.” The Fox News commenters intimated that terrorists were among those in the migrant caravan.
To be clear, there isn’t an emergency at the border. Immigrants seeking asylum aren’t aiming to hurt us. Inward migration has slowed significantly, declining to its lowest levels in the past decade, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center report. Security seems to be working; there have been more arrests along the border than ever before. However, Trump’s manufactured war does have casualties: children. Thousands of immigrant youth have been traumatized from being separated from their families because of the administration’s policy to detain and prosecute illegal border crossers — even those with children in tow.
The maker of the policies may flit from one subject to the next on a whim, but schools will bear the brunt of the immigration crisis for years to come, as kids deal with their residual fear and trauma, stoked by this president’s deceitful and immoral attack on brown people.
There are approximately 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school each year, according to the think tank the American Immigration Council. Last week, the Supreme Court decided not to take up a lower court case ruling that put in doubt the legality of Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or DACA. This Obama-era policy removes the threat of deportation for certain undocumented immigrants brought into the country as minors by someone else. By not hearing the case, the Supreme Court ensured that DACA can continue, but Trumpian attacks against migrants can’t be conducive for learning. While many municipalities have committed to serving as sanctuary cities for undocumented residents, others have amplified their persecution and pursuit of these individuals.
By preying on the fear and loathing of immigrants of color (who can forget his remarks about immigrants from “s#@thole” countries?), Trump has planted seeds of prejudice and scrutiny, which traumatizes students already living under a cloud of uncertainty.
In Houston last year, undocumented high school student Dennis Rivera-Sarmiento got into a dustup with a classmate who he claims called him a racial epithet. That encounter resulted in the high school’s police officer arresting him. In accordance with Texas’ state compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE, Rivera-Sarmiento was then flagged for deportation. In Las Cruces, New Mexico, one school district saw a 60 percent increase in absences in February of 2017 following an immigration raid by ICE. Another ICE raid, this time at a meatpacking plant in April 2018 in eastern Tennessee, led to more than 500 students staying home from a nearby school the next day.
In April 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions presented to county and municipal leaders a new initiative named Operation Matador, an effort to partner ICE with local police departments and officers in schools to bolster efforts to detain immigrants with gang ties, particularly with the notoriously violent MS-13 gang. Trump routinely singles out MS-13 in his case for drawing a hard line on illegal immigration. “To parents out there, know this,” Sessions said, as reported by ProPublica. “We will not surrender our schools to these gangs. We will not allow them to prey on our children in the hallways.”
The ProPublica report chronicled the detention of Alex, a Huntington High School sophomore, who fled Honduras to escape gang violence in his hometown. Alex was targeted by school officers for wearing blue shoes, which happens to be the prominent color of the Honduran flag and is an MS-13 color. School police also took pictures of doodles made by Alex with the name of his hometown, the Honduran country code — 504 — and a devil with horns, which happens to be Huntington’s school mascot but which authorities saw as a link to MS-13.
Alex was jailed for more than a year. Eventually, an immigration judge ordered him deported.
Black people who are perceived as trespassing are the subjects of racist calls to 911, while brown people have ICE called on them. Partnerships between municipalities and ICE directly affect how undocumented families engage with public services. These policies and practices are destroying our notions of community. The public school enrollment of Latino students across the country decreased by 10 percent within two years of the implementation of local partnerships with ICE, according to a 2018 Stanford University study, while no change was observed for non-Latino students. The ICE partnerships with local authorities reduce Latino students’ engagement and exacerbate existing stress.
“Educators have to pay attention to what’s happening at the federal level,” said Mary Moran, executive director of Nuestra Voz (Our Voice) NOLA, a nonprofit that aims to organize black and brown parents so they can advocate for better educational access for their children. She believes that school leaders largely ignore issues of immigration until a student or their family member is deported.
We must take the view that undocumented students are potential citizens, and that hurting them means that we are hurting the U.S. as a whole. The border wall that Trump so desperately wants is wrongly being built in our schools. Educators must understand they’re not soldiers in this battle they are not authorized to fight. Schools have a legal and moral obligation to keep their doors, and all their students’ minds, open.