Immigration Raids: Why are we deporting law-abiding families?

Happy New Year! Yesterday and today my students were visibly distracted. One girl had her head down and couldn’t work. When I asked her to sit up, I could see that she was crying. “La Migra” is all that students would say. They showed me a video of a raid. A mother had 10 minutes to pack her own and her daughter’s bag for deportation. Students are telling me that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) police are making raids on homes, stopping cars in traffic and showing up at the mall. “My mother doesn’t have papers,” one girl said. “But my brothers were both born here. What will happen to them if my mother is deported?” Another student told me that her mother is afraid to go to the supermarket because immigration police are there. “We don’t have any food in the house,” she said. I assured her that school is a safe place to be. ICE cannot enter school property and teachers are not required to give out information.

I don’t understand this new policy of tearing families apart. The newspapers report here that El Salvador has become the murder capital of the world. These families are fleeing extreme violence and should be welcomed as refugees. Many students have already lived through warlike trauma. Why are we retraumatizing them? Most are law-abiding participants in the U.S. economy. They work and pay taxes. They perform jobs that many Americans will not take: cleaning houses, construction, retail sales and restaurant work.

We are about to enter TESTING SEASON. My students will have back-to-back tests. The first is a semester exam that includes separate Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing sections administered over two days. The second is the WiDA ACCESS, a state-mandated test for English Language Learners that also includes Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing sections administered across several days. Some seniors will also have to take High School Assessments that will determine if they can graduate in June. On top of that is MAP-R, a computer-adapted Reading test that some students will take. How can they concentrate when so much in their lives is outside of their control?

I wish the politicians could see the effects of their policies in my classroom. So many students are suffering horribly through challenging family situations, yet they come to school and sit through a barrage of (meaningless) tests because we ask them to do so. They want a high school diploma and are very motivated to stay in school. The American Dream is still alive. Why are we making students sag under such a heavy load?