By Crisanta Duran, New York State Director
So many of us have been left reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, but while all our communities have felt the effects, immigrant families have been particularly vulnerable.
In New York City alone, our immigrant population comprises nearly half of the workforce, keeping our city running in the darkest of times. From restaurant and grocery store workers providing food for American tables to sanitation teams cleaning and disinfecting hospitals for sick patients, they’ve jeopardized their health and safety for a paycheck.
Despite the crucial role they play, their needs are also frequently overlooked and unmet. Our immigrant workers are not only more likely to be exposed to the novel coronavirus, but they’re less likely to have health insurance and access to high quality health care. That holds true for their children, as well—despite the fact that universal healthcare coverage is available for all children under New York State law.
Like their parents, these children are more likely to be living in poverty and more likely to be living in some of the hardest hit areas impacted by the virus. In fact, our immigrant children are also more likely to experience the trauma of losing a loved one at the hands of this deadly virus.
While we cannot change healthcare, housing, or the employment status for our immigrant families overnight, there are real changes we can and must make during this pandemic to ensure that the 1.5 million immigrant children living in New York are able to receive an education that will help them access a better quality of life.
With schools across the state closed for the remainder of the academic year, too many of our immigrant children do not have the resources at home to continue their education.
Through federal, state and local legislation, we can better target resources and protections to support their needs. For starters, there should be more professional development for educators on how to support English Learners through distance learning—right now, New York has has yet to issue specific guidance for distance learning for English learners.
Technology access and support must include accommodations for all English learners, kids with disabilities, and all families regardless of home language, income, or immigration status of students or parents, including translated materials and coursework. Until there is equitable access to the Internet, laptops and tablets, and bilingual support to help with homework, we’re all but guaranteeing that our immigrant children will fall dangerously behind their peers.
As New York begins to disseminate additional federal funding provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, it’s imperative that we increase funding to support migrant children, English language learners, disabled children, and their families to offset the disproportionate impact of missing school on graduation rates.
Additionally, translated mental health supports for children and their families must also be made available to provide counseling for those struggling with trauma and loss.
I also encourage the Department of Education to share how COVID-19-related education funding is being spent at the state, district, and school levels in order to ensure that all students are being served and supported at this critical time.
Even before COVID-19, only 3 in 10 immigrant children were graduating from high school in New York. Instead of exacerbating the divide, let’s use this crisis as a means of bringing new funding and new ideas to our public education system to create a stronger, more equitable New York.