Educators across the country are rallying around their students of Haitian and African descents after President Donald Trump demanded to know why the United States should accept immigrants from Haiti and the “shithole countries” in Africa.
Trump’s comments come at a time when more foreign-born black people live in the United States than at any time in history—and many of the residents are children enrolled in the nation’s K-12 public schools. The president made the remarks while rejecting a bipartisan immigration deal on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that would have offered more visas to underrepresented countries in Africa and countries with expiring Temporary Protective Status, including Haiti. Upon hearing the proposal, Trump asked several members of Congress why the U.S. would want people from Haiti and more Africans instead of places such as Norway, a European country.
U.S. schools are educating tens of thousands black, foreign-born English-language learners. More than 13,000 of the students are from Haiti, according to a 2015 U.S. Department of Education fact sheet. The same report found that nearly 4,000 of the students were from Kenya, more than 2,000 each from Ethiopia and Somalia and another combined 3,800 students were from unspecified African countries.
“This morning in classrooms across our country, America’s teachers are dealing with the fallout. What happens in classrooms if children simply mimic or repeat the president’s vulgar and vile comments or share their racist overtones?” American Federation of Teacher President Randi Weingarten wrote in a statement. “The countries and the people the president targeted need to know that the American people do not stand for Trump’s hateful and racist words.”
A 2015 study from the Pew Research Center found that the black African immigrant population in the U.S. grew from 570,000 to 1.4 million, an increase of nearly 140 percent, since 2000. Those immigrants are less likely to be in the United States illegally and more likely to speak English when compared with the overall U.S. immigrant population.
When African-born students arrive in U.S. schools, they aren’t always well received. Education Week has written about racial strife in St. Cloud, Minn., home to a growing community of residents from Somalia.
While many schools welcomed students from Haiti after an earthquake ravaged the country in 2010, the federal government has announced it will cancel visas for roughly 59,000 Haitians living under protected status in the U.S.
The decision means that immigrants from Haiti who currently have Temporary Protected Status, a program that allows immigrants from countries in crisis to live and work in the United States legally, must return to the nation by July 2019 or be subject to deportation. A 2017 Migration Policy Institute study found that the nation’s Haitian immigrants are concentrated in central and South Florida, and the New York City and Boston metropolitan areas.
After President Trump’s remarks Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho took to Twitter to voice his support for Haitians and immigrants.
Immigrants from nations referred to today with insult enrich South FL and our nation- including the youngest among them, who I fear are questioning what hurts more - how anyone could perceive their family’s homeland in such a way or how anyone can remain silent about it. #IamThem pic.twitter.com/O1BJykwBGS
— Alberto M. Carvalho (@MiamiSup) January 12, 2018
My heart is with #Haiti on this 8th anniversary of the earthquake that changed everything. To all my Haitian brothers and sisters, including the tens of thousands of Haitian-American children and teens learning and striving in @MDCPS schools, we stand by you. pic.twitter.com/WFMtVcV18w
— Alberto M. Carvalho (@MiamiSup) January 12, 2018
Today, @MiamiSup spoke to several Haitian-American students @MNW_Bulls1955 and reminded them that anyone can succeed in this country, regardless of where they come from, social conditions, skin color or religion. pic.twitter.com/5MziiYKCv0
— Miami Dade Schools (@MDCPS) January 12, 2018
The KIPP, or Knowledge Is Power Program, charter school network in Massachusetts signaled their support for Haitian students.
At KIPP Boston this morning we stand with our Haitian students and families. pic.twitter.com/v1xET50GgG
— KIPP Massachusetts (@KIPPMASchools) January 12, 2018
In Minnesota, home to many students from Somalia, school leaders in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul wrote social media posts in support of foreign-born students.
We respect all @SPPS_News students, staff and families. We are proud that you choose to call SPPS home. We also appreciate the vast homelands represented in our community. We value the cultures and traditions that originate from communities near and far. #AllAreWelcome #IamSPPS pic.twitter.com/cIMN3uTmB6
— Joe Gothard, Ed.D. (@JoeGothard) January 12, 2018
— Minneapolis Public Schools (@MPS_News) January 12, 2018
Since Trump took office last January, Homeland Security has also canceled Temporary Protected Status for the northern Africa nation of Sudan.
As my colleague Catherine Gewertz reports, the College Board responded to Trump’s comments with a pledge to donate $100,000 to an African school that builds college readiness.
.@CollegeBoard responds to Trump immigration comments with $100k pledge to African school that builds college readiness. CEO Coleman says: “America’s colleges are hungry for the strength and talent of African, Haitian and Central American students.”
— Catherine Gewertz (@cgewertz) January 12, 2018
Here’s a look at some data on foreign-born black students in U.S. schools:
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.