Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Experts: Keeping Families Together Helps Immigrant Students

Source: SEIU/ Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

As millions of immigrants waited for President Barack Obama to shed light on their future Thursday, educators, too, had a stake in the conversation.

In a statement Thursday after Obama’s prime-time speech – in which he announced measures to defer the deportation of 4 million immigrants — National Educators Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia called the president’s plan “the morally right thing to do.”

“Educators know from experience that family unity plays a critical role in student success,” Garcia continued. “Yet a growing number of public school students live in fear that our nation’s immigration policies will break up their families, forcing them to choose between their country and their loved ones. Keeping families together is essential to keeping America strong.”

According to a September study by Child Trends, 90 percent of Latino children in the United States are American-born citizens. About 7 percent of K-12 public-school students have at least one undocumented parent.

Child Trends Hispanic Institute Director Lina Guzman’s thoughts were along the same lines as Garcia’s. In an email Friday, she said children of immigrant families are “likely to benefit academically,” from the proposed changes. Keeping families together and creating a climate of reduced stress is more conducive to parent engagement, she wrote.

 ”Research tells us that family stress is detrimental to child development  and well-being including learning and educational success. By reducing the possibility that  an interaction with a government institution, including schools, could lead to a parent being deported and children separated from their parents, The Executive Action could greatly benefit child outcomes,” Guzman said.

In his speech, Obama said the government would be focusing on actual threats to U.S. security — “felons, not families” and “criminals, not children.”

Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families and works to keep them together?

Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us? Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs, businesses and industries right here in America?

In her statement, Garcia said the NEA supports Obama’s proposal to expand Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which has helped 700,000 students and their families stay together over the past two years. 

Garcia said the United States still has a long way to go, however, and called for “swift action” on immigration reform in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Other experts in the field of Latino education also shared their opinions on the matter Friday: 

Mark Hugo Lopez of Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends Project, said, “By removing the threat of deportation for the parents of U.S.-born children, many young Latino students could be impacted. This is especially true so that these students are not at risk of seeing their families separated by deportation. It could also help with students applying for college as there may be less worry about filling out a financial-aid application. Of course, this will depend on who applies and is given deportation relief.” 

Tamara Halle, a senior Child Trends researcher and expert on early-childhood education and dual-language learners mentioned another aspect of the immigration reform’s effects on U.S. schools — dual-language programs. 

“Teachers need to be prepared,” she said in an email. “Preschool participation, academic achievement and high-school graduation rates are rising for the growing population of U.S. Latino students, who continue to trail their white peers in many areas of academic success. To close the gap between Hispanic students and their peers, educators must be trained on the changing demographics of the classroom, and in the research-based practices to support dual-language learners. This includes more ELL training, and developing assessments that measure the skills of ELLs.”

Today, one in four children in the United States is Hispanic, Halle pointed out, and by 2050, this number will be more than one in three.