Immigration is an Education Issue

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

March 14, 2018

by Janette Martinez 


Latinxs* are the fastest growing racial group in the United States and make up the largest percentage of non-white school-age children. Latinx students also make up a third of public charter school students. Latinx adults are likely to be immigrants and trail other ethnic groups in education. In 2015, about half of Hispanic adults were foreign born, and 35 percent of Hispanic adults lack a high school degree.

The Mexican town that my parents grew up in didn’t even have a high school, and they moved to the United States knowing the educational opportunities were better here. My parents’ story isn’t unique, and it’s one of many immigrants and their hopes for their children. Those hopes are being realized. Latinx students have made significant gains in K-12 achievement since the 1990s:

  • Hispanic high school dropout rates have dropped 20 percentage points;
  • High school graduation rates have increased 26 points.

Latinx students have made significant gains in postsecondary education, too, since the early 2000s:

  • The college enrollment rate gap between White and Hispanic students has narrowed from 18 percentage points to 8 percentage points; .
  • The number of bachelor’s degrees earned by Hispanic students has more than doubled.

To maintain and maximize the gains of the last two decades for Latinx students, educators and policymakers must understand how today’s immigration policies impact learning and achievement to properly respond to them. Current immigration crackdowns and the repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) could undo decades of progress.

The focus on immigration and education has been on the repeal of DACA and the 800,000 DACA recipients currently at risk. The vast majority of DACA recipients are Latinx, as are the majority of undocumented immigrants.  Almost half of all DACA recipients are currently pursuing an education. However, to be in the program, applicants must be at least 15 years old which means that younger students, not covered under DACA, are feeling the impact of DACA’s repeal and of immigration enforcement without any protections whatseover. There are an estimated 9,000 teachers with DACA, an estimated 5.1 million children with at least one undocumented parent, and 200,000 citizen children with parents with DACA status.

Schools and policymakers at the K-12 level can take the following steps to make their schools a place where students feel safe and can focus on learning, not deportation.

Ensure K-12 schools are welcoming for immigrant families by enforcing current immigration law.

– All students – regardless of their immigration status – have the right to a public education in K-12 schools thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Plyler v. Doe decision.

– The Migration Policy Institute suggests removing any barriers that would cause parents to hesitate – especially in this political climate – when enrolling their children, such as asking for social security numbers on enrollment forms or requiring documents to prove age or residence within the district.

– Some school districts have declared themselves “sanctuary districts” to publicly state they will not give over information. However, even without a formal declaration, schools have no legal obligation to turn over information about students or their families to federal immigration officers without a warrant, subpoena, or court order, in part because of protections under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Provide funding and support to educators, school leaders, and counselors in schools.

– The effects of the immigration crackdowns extend well beyond academics and also affect non-immigrant students.

– A recent nationwide survey found that 90 percent of administrators “reported observing emotional and behavioral problems among immigrant students” who fear deportation of their parents or family members or may have already experienced a family member’s deportation.

– Two-thirds of respondents also said that there was fear and concern from classmates who are not targets of enforcement who fear for their friends.

Educators who work with immigration have experienced increases in anxiety, workload, and a diminished sense of trust in schools. Teachers now feel a responsibility to get information around immigration for their students and for themselves. School counselors, already underfunded and overworked, are facing increased workloads themselves. Additional funding to hire more counselors is one way policymakers can help mitigate the effects of the current immigration crackdowns.

Look out for our next blog post on how to mitigate immigration enforcements effects in postsecondary education.




*In this post, the terms Latinx (the gender neutral form of Latino/Latina) and Hispanic are used interchangeably.