The questions have begun. Teachers and administrators are asking “With everything going on in the news, am I going to have more English Learners next school year?” As someone who has worked at the intersection of immigration and education for 20 years, I’m going to give you my two cents: YES, 110% yes, and not just if you work in a border state.
I wrote recently about what’s going on with unaccompanied minors and what educators need to know and now I’d like to add another layer to this conversation: refugee resettlement.
It took President Biden months to finally decide how many refugees he’ll let in (with some flip-flopping at times), but a few days ago on May 3, he finally signed the Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021. The number of refugees allowed to be resettled in FY21 is now set at 62,500 (from now until September 30, 2021, which is the end of Federal Fiscal Year).
The reality is that there's no way 62,500 refugees will be resettled in the next five months. No one knows yet how many will make it in, but even 20,000 seems optimistic. Why? What educators need to understand is that former President Trump nearly destroyed the U.S. refugee program. When Obama left office, the U.S. was on target to resettle 110,000 refugees/year. When Trump left office, he had cut the program down to 15,000 refugees/year – the lowest level in the program’s history. (Historically, the average has been 95,000 under both Republican and Democratic administrations.)
Over the course of four years, over 100 refugee resettlement agencies throughout the U.S. had to close because there were no clients to serve! That’s approximately one third of all agencies across the country. So, refugee resettlement agencies are now scrambling to hire staff and rebuild much of the program. Furthermore, refugee processing oversees takes time, requires numerous steps, and proper staffing. Starting and stopping the U.S. refugee program is not as easy as turning on and off a light switch.
That said, refugee resettlement organizations are gearing up as quickly as possible because they know that refugees’ lives are on the line. Even if only a fraction of the 62,500 refugees get resettled, the majority are going to be squeezed into the summer months. This could be challenging for school districts because sustaining proper programming for English Learners and their families is also quite difficult when the number of newcomers ebbs and flows.
Here are some considerations for school district administrators:
Do you have proper staffing in place for registering a potential increase in English Learners over the summer months? And for English Language instruction in the Fall?
Do you have programming in place for Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE)? A large percentage of refugee students and unaccompanied minors are SLIFE.
Do you a way to access interpreters for less common refugee languages? Remember, parents have a right to receive information in a language they understand.
Are you in a location that also tends to receive a large number of unaccompanied minors? (Keep in mind, even if you are not in a border state, these youth are ultimately reunified with family members or other sponsors who could live anywhere in the U.S.) If you are a refugee resettlement site and typically receive unaccompanied minors reunifying with family members, you may be in for quite an increase.
The time to prepare is now!
If you’re ready for more detailed information on how to support incoming refugee students and families, sign up for the 5 hour self-paced online course that I (Laura Gardner) teach through our partnership with English Learner Portal and Brandman University. The next section starts June 21! Or if you prefer, we can facilitate a live virtual workshop for your group – just email email@example.com to discuss.