There is an ugly reality that many of us are spared from, but which is omnipresent in the lives of many of our students.
Latino journalists last week confronted President Obama with the news that immigration enforcement is breaking up families. A yearlong investigation by the Applied Research Center revealed that at least 5,100 children are currently stuck in foster care because their parents have been detained or deported by immigration officials.
A report in Colorlines highlighted a typical case:
Ricardo's children were removed from his custody because a babysitter left them alone for less than an hour and a neighbor called the police. Ricardo, whose name has been changed, and his wife, a U.S. citizen, were arrested and convicted on misdemeanor child endangerment charges. But because he is an undocumented immigrant, rather than being released and quickly moving to regain custody of his children, his information was run through a federal database and ICE moved him to detention. His wife suffers from seizures and the county child welfare department refused to place their babies with her unless Ricardo was present to parent as well.
But Ricardo was not present because ICE had detained him and, despite the child welfare system's mandate toward family reunification, his children have now been in foster care for close to a year. Ricardo has been fully excluded from family court proceedings because he is detained. His parental rights will soon be terminated, according to an immigration advocate familiar with the case.
Once in detention, parents may languish for months.
A report from National Public Radio last year revealed where some of the new laws have originated:
NPR's Laura Sullivan reports that SB 1070, which makes it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant in the state and requires racial profiling, was largely conceived and drafted by a conservative business lobbying group in Washington, D.C. The group, called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, includes board members from state and federal elected officials as well as representatives of major companies including the Corrections Corporation of America, the country's largest private prison company. Russell Pearce, the Arizona state legislator who claims responsibility for SB 1070, is one of the state legislators on ALEC's board.
According to the NPR report, which was based on extensive culling of campaign finance reports and lobbying and corporate records, ALEC, and particularly CCA, played a pivotal role in conceiving, writing and naming the law that would become SB 1070.
In a sign that there may be a different wind blowing, Arizona voters last week recalled Russell Pearce.
President Obama acknowledged last week that kids being stuck in foster care as a result of government detentions or deportations is a “real problem,” and said he would ask agencies to review and improve their practices. But his administration is pursuing an aggressive deportation policy, and deported 396,000 immigrants last year - more than a million since he took office.
Their illegal status makes these immigrants less than human in the eyes of the law, and subjects them to exploitation by employers, and profiteering prison corporations. A few years ago when house construction was booming, they were welcomed as a cheap labor force. Even today, most farm work and many service sector jobs are done by immigrant labor. Their willingness to work at cheap pay is a hidden subsidy to all of us who indirectly benefit from this labor.
In California, very nearly half of the students in our public schools are Latino, and of this group, approximately one in four have undocumented parents. Our students may not share their fears with us in the classroom. Unfortunately, in places like Alabama, politicians have even turned schools into tools to enforce immigration laws, and fear breeds secrecy. These students have been told their very existence is against the law.
I believe this fear affects the psyche of these students, and damages their capacity to learn. The goal of being prepared for college may not take hold within students who are unsure they will even be allowed to attend. To the degree the school is identified with governmental authority, even teachers may be feared. And the insecurity of not knowing if your family will be there when you get home, after rumors spread of the latest ICE raids, is likely to distract even the strongest students.
We teach our students about the crime of slavery in the 19th century. How do we deal with injustices that arise in our times? And how can we respond to the very real undercurrent of fear that courses through many of our students’ lives?
The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.