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Education for All: Supporting Undocumented Students

looking-at-sky-iStock_000018692211_MediumOn March 30, 2016, NCTE staff attended a panel discussion hosted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) called “Harnessing the Talent of Unauthorized Immigrant Students.” Speakers included Dr. Roberto Gonzalez, assistant professor of Education at Harvard University and author of Lives in Limbo; Yehimi Cambron, fifth-grade teacher and DACA recipient; Dr. Frances Esparza, assistant superintendent of the Office of English Language Learners, Boston Public Schools; and Richard Loeschner, principal of Brentwood High School, Brentwood, New York.

During the panel, the following points were highlighted:

  • For many undocumented students, legal status is a “lead weight,” the most salient feature in their lives. Though DACA has made pursuing higher education and careers possible in the short-term, recipients struggle with how to plan for an uncertain future.
  • More training is needed for educators regarding DACA and the many issues unauthorized students face.
  • In order to create a welcome, supportive environment, when an immigrant family enters the Boston Public School district, the district connects the family with a community-based organization that has capabilities in the family’s native language.
  • There is a need for more teachers who are dually certified in a subject area and in English as a second language, as well as a need for more guidance counselors.

NCTE has long taken a stand on unauthorized students. Most recently, the NCTE membership approved a 2014 resolution on the Dignity and Education of Immigrant, Undocumented, and Unaccompanied Youth. This resolution urges members to “advocate for the dignities and rights of young people crossing the border, particularly those who cross alone.” The resolution concludes with a pledge of support for educators who work with immigrant, undocumented, and unaccompanied students.

The CAP event closed with panelists discussing next steps for helping undocumented students navigate the educational system and their futures. Dr. Esparza emphasized creating tangible college and career opportunities for all students, while Yehimi Cambron stressed the role of teachers as mentors for undocumented youth. Finally, Dr. Gonzalez concluded the session by describing the importance of local-level voices, no matter the political environment of the country: “In the absence of federal action, the balance lays in local-level actors in advocating for the future of undocumented students.” Certainly, educators play a prominent role in ensuring equitable access and instruction for all students, no matter their legal status.

To learn more about supporting unauthorized students, check out the Dream Project’s educator resources.