Implicit in that ruling is the promise of education—the notion that learning creates opportunities for healthier, more productive, and more secure lives. But how do educators ensure that they are meeting the needs of all their students, helping them all make progress toward achieving successful futures?
With estimates suggesting there are over 1 million undocumented students in American classrooms and over 5 million students with at least one undocumented parent, the issue of undocumented immigration is one that teachers across the country must contend with in a significant way.
Students who have recently arrived may experience hurdles with acclimation and adjustment in their new communities, and, for those living in households where languages other than English are predominantly spoken, there can be challenges keeping up with native English-speaking classmates1. Further, these children and their parents can suffer from debilitating anxiety fearing a parent or sibling’s deportation.
Given these and other challenges, it is important for teachers to understand the challenges their students face, the opportunities that are available to them2, and to have access to resources that address their students’ needs. Given the prevalence of news coverage, misinformation, and political discord surrounding immigrants, teachers may want to utilize resources that help build empathy in their classrooms and counter prevalent stereotypes and myths about immigration.
Beyond the challenges presented by undocumented students, however, teachers should also be aware of the learning opportunities available for all of their students by having immigrant and refugee youth in class, specifically the opportunity to implement a transnational curriculum3 that uses diversity as a learning opportunity, engages translanguaging skills, promotes civic engagement, and cultivates the voices and perspectives of all students to create a greater appreciation for diversity of experience and cross-cultural learning.
- Diette, Timothy M., and Ruth Uwaifo Oylere. “Do Limited English Students Jeopardize the Education of Other Students? Lessons from the North Carolina Public School System.” Education Economics 25, no. 5 (2017): 446–61.
- It is important for teachers to know that undocumented students can go to college. They cannot be awarded federal aid, but the majority will qualify for in-state tuition rates at state-run schools in nearly every U.S. state. At least six states allow undocumented students to receive state financial aid, and there are other sources of support available to these students including institutional aid and private and foundation grants.
- Bajaj, Monisha, and Lesley Bartlett. “Critical Transnational Curriculum for Immigrant and Refugee Students.” Curriculum Inquiry 47, no. 1 (2017): 25–35.
Find out how you can get informed, get involved, and take action on this and other issues.
What experts are saying:
- Simmons, Andrew. “What Undocumented Students Bring to the Classroom.” The Atlantic, April 13, 2015.
- Crawford, Emily R., and Lisa M. Dorner. “Four Practical Steps to Help Immigrant Families in Your School Community.” Education Week, September 12, 2018.
- Gándara, Patricia, and Jongyeon Ee. “U.S. Immigration Enforcement Policy and Its Impact on Teaching and Learning in the Nation’s Schools.” The Civil Rights Project, UCLA, February 28, 2018.
- Wicks, Anne. “For Children, the Immigrant Experience Begins in School.” The Catalyst 9 (Winter 2018).
- Kugler, Eileen Gale. “How Immigrant Students Strengthen American Schools.” Immigration In and Out of the Classroom, June 2, 2015.
- Camarota, Steven A., Bryan Griffith, and Karen Zeigler. “Mapping the Impact of Immigration on Public Schools.” Center for Immigration Studies, March 2017.
Research & Resources
Materials for further exploration:
- Silveira, Florencia, Mikaela J. Dufur, Jonathan A. Jarvis, and Kristie J. Rowley. “The Influence of Foreign-born Population on Immigrant and Native-born Students’ Academic Achievement.” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, May 10, 2019.
- Walsh, Bari. “Supporting Undocumented Students and Mixed Status Families.” Harvard Graduate School of Education, May 1, 2018.
- Walking the Talk: Honest Conversations About Diversity and Inclusion, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
- Ways Teachers Can Help Refugee Students: Some Suggestions, National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2006.
- Immigration: Printable Resources, TeacherVision.
- Changing Demographics, Changing Identity, Changing Attitudes, Teaching Tolerance.
- Teaching Immigration with the Immigrant Stories Project, The Advocates for Human Rights.
- Welcoming Newcomers Series, Harvard Graduate School of Education.