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  • Writer's pictureImmigrant Connections

Unsafe Immigrant Children = Future Students

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

As I look at pictures of immigrant children in cages and read stories about children not having access to safe and sanitary conditions, there’s one thing that keeps coming to mind:

Do teachers realize that many of these kids will be their students in the fall?

These kids that we’re reading about in these horrific conditions are currently in the custody of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Some are truly unaccompanied, meaning they crossed the border without a parent or guardian. However, others crossed the border with a family member and the government separated them – sending the adult family members to adult detention and the child through the system that accommodates children.

Per the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (2008), these children are only supposed to be in CBP custody a maximum of 72 hours before being released to the care and custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), but many have been in there for weeks.

Once these kids are released to ORR, they are placed in shelters or with foster parents through a special network of foster care providers. ORR currently has 168 shelters/programs in 23 states. The average number of days in ORR care is currently 44. The child stays in the program for as long as it takes their case manager to find a family member to release them to. In some cases this is extra challenging, particularly if the child was separated from their family member(s) to begin with. Many of these children end up being released to an aunt, uncle, or other relative.

While they are in ORR custody, the program or shelter contracting with ORR to provide services is responsible for their schooling. This means that while these children are in ORR custody, they will not be attending local schools.

However, once their case manager locates a family member or other sponsor, the child will be released to that individual and enrolled in local schools. This arrangement allows for children to be taken care of by family members while they’re waiting for their immigration case to proceed, which in some cases takes years. Ultimately, some of them may win asylum or another form of immigration relief, while others may be deported. But for the time being, while they’re living with the family member they were released to, they will be in your schools and your classrooms.

I’ve met many teachers who are hardcore advocates for their students, both inside and outside of the classroom. I’ve met others, however, who are good at advocating for students inside the schoolhouse, but somehow manage to ignore what’s going on outside of school in the lives of their students, their families, and communities. I’ve never been able to wrap my brain around that type of compartmentalization. I don't believe it's possible to advocate for our students inside the classroom if we’re not willing to advocate for them outside the classroom.

No one said it would be easy.

As Highlights' CEO said this week “…we want kids to understand the importance of having moral courage. Moral courage means standing up for what we believe is right, honest, and ethical – even when it is hard.” Furthermore, teacher of the year Mandy Manning says “We have to be willing to get uncomfortable and face some of that negative messaging that we might receive in order to really make deep impacts on what we know is best for kids.”

So, what can you do? I know that my fellow educators may have a little extra time on their hands this summer, but very likely NOT a lot of extra money. That said:

Suggestions of what you can do to support immigrant children in detention that don’t cost a dime:

  1. Call your representatives: Do not underestimate the impact of this! Call (202) 224-3121 or visit You could also tag your representatives in a Facebook post or Tweet. Some points to make include: a) The conditions these children are being held in are unacceptable and you want all children in CBP custody have access to safe and sanitary conditions; b) You want kids moved to ORR custody within the required 72 hours; c) If children cross the border with a family member, they should not be separated and funneled into the system for unaccompanied children.

  2. Keep informed about what’s going on: you can do this by reading news articles and following key organizations on Facebook and Twitter such as the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, American Immigration Council, RAICES, the Florence Project, Families Belong Together, the Women’s Refugee Commission, and Kids in Need of Defense.

  3. Donate your frequent flyer miles to help coordinate travel for immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and attorneys providing pro bono immigration services.

  4. Keep talking about these issues! Talk with your neighbors, your fellow soccer moms/dads, in the line at the grocery store, at church, or wherever you spend your time. Be open to having courageous conversations and stand up for what you know is right for kids.

Suggestions of what you can do to support immigrant adults that don't cost a thing:

  1. Visiting immigrants in detention in your area: Many states have visitation programs set up where one can volunteer to be a friendly visitor for immigrants in detention. Check out this list to see if your city or state has such a program. I currently volunteer for the DC Detention Visitation Network.

  2. Volunteer to accompany immigrants to immigration court and ICE check-in appointments: There is not one national organization overseeing these local efforts. For example, there’s the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network, New York City New Sanctuary Coalition, Austin Sanctuary Network, the St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America, Sanctuary DMV’s Accompaniment Project that I volunteer with, and more. Google and see what may be available in your area!

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