By: Mary-Margaret Mara (Mary-Margaret is a preschool teacher in an inclusion classroom at Chandler Magnet School in Worcester and a Teach Plus Commonwealth Senior Teaching Policy Fellow. She was the Worcester Public Schools Teacher of the Year in 2014 and a finalist for Massachusetts Teacher of the Year in 2017.)
On the last day of school, sisters Sandy and Veronica, former students of mine, came to say goodbye. Sandy handed me flowers, a thank you card and with tears in her eyes gave me a hug. This wasn’t just goodbye for the summer. Sandy and Veronica’s parents have decided to leave the U.S. and will move back to their native country of Albania in July. Although Sandy and Veronica are U.S. citizens, their parents are not. In fact, they are undocumented. With the recent push for zero tolerance from our President, Donald Trump, families like theirs are finding it increasingly difficult to survive here in the land of the “free”.
My heart breaks for this family, especially for two young girls moving to a country they have never been to because of the way our laws are being enforced right now. I understand the need for vetting upon entrance into our country. Yet, what happens when we have loving families who are undocumented and have children born here in the U.S.? Do we turn are back on them, close the door to a new life, and offer them no alternatives but to return to a country where there is so much uncertainty for them?
I feel that we need to look at each situation and provide alternatives for families such as Sandy and Veronica’s. Create different pathways for families like these to receive documentation without fear of deportation. One thing I have always prided our country on has been the way we have offered a new home to so many in need. We have been a land of immigrants since our country was established.
Recently I have found myself shedding tears for so many families I have come to know through my work in Worcester and for families I have yet to meet. It doesn’t feel like the America I have always known. I find myself at a loss for words after seeing the way families are now being treated at the border in Texas. Something needs to change, and it needs to come from all of us. Not one voice but a collective voice of what we as a nation would like to see happen with new families wanting to enter our country.
How do we let our voice be heard?
Begin by reaching out to legislators and senators letting them know that what is happening now with immigration is unacceptable to you. Our collective voices were heard on how we felt about the separation of families and children at the border. This called for the government to make change. President Trump signed an executive order no longer allowing parents and children to be separated from one another in separate detention facilities. This is a beginning and a wake-up call to us that our collective voices have power when we work together. We do not have to sit back and accept unacceptable behavior on the part of people that are supposed to be representing us as a country.
How do we support immigrant students in our schools?
Have thoughtful conversation in your schools and districts to ensure that children’s safety, considering the issues surrounding immigration, are in the forefront of our minds. Make sure that your school policies are protecting children, including undocumented students, and are clear to all staff. If not, advocate that new policies be set forth to ensure student’s safety is number one regardless of documentation status. We cannot just stand back; it is time for us to voice our dismay over the present policies in government surrounding immigration and it’s our responsibility to ensure every student is welcome and protected in our schools.
Support immigrant Families by building home to school Relationships:
We can support immigrant families in schools by letting them know our number one concern is their children. Educators are not in schools to police immigration policies, we are here to teach. Invite families into your schools and build relationships with them. Let them know that you care about their wellbeing. In my classroom, we offer monthly family activities. This has helped to build a sense of community between home and school. Through relationship building we can help direct families to agencies that will support them and make sure that these families basic needs are met.
Immigration is a hot button topic right now but let us not forget that it is really about people. So many suffer in their native countries and come here for a better life. Let’s work together as a nation to create humane policies for immigration and eliminate ones that further traumatize families trying to enter the U.S. Our voices have power and in a democratic society, our American values should not be forgotten. Instead they should be taken into consideration when the government develops new policies that impact the treatment of others. To me, America’s sense of humanity is one of the things that makes the U.S. such a great nation.