UPDATE: A few hours after this post was published, Trump signed an executive order to cease the separation of children from their parents. However, there was a caveat, he is doing this in exchange of making changes to the Flores agreement which limits the holding of children to <20 days. Regardless, of the outcome of this order, what is written below still rings true. We must continue to stay engaged and to stay vigilant. After all, with or without their parents, children do not belong in cages or behind bars and the harm that's been inflicted cannot be undone.
Currently the United States government is separating young children from their parents at the border. This we know, what most of us don’t know is that the United States has no plan for reuniting these children with their families AND that spells a great deal of trouble for society but especially for public education.
While the administration has argued that they’re separating families as a deterrent to immigration – which is an effort to save tax payers money and keep American jobs in American hands, this decision is actually incredibly costly: socially and financially but most importantly it's cruel and ineffective.
When a child is separated from their parents they can be interned in camps (tent cities, converted Walmarts, etc. LINK) but eventually if they are unable to be reunited with their families, which is more likely than not, they will become a part of the foster care system.
Being part of the American foster system is incredibly traumatic for most children, much less for those who do not share a home language with their new guardians, who have no understanding of their situation and who long for the comfort of their parents and siblings. Add to this the trauma of crossing the border and we’ve created a system of incredibly broken[i] children. Children who will fill our classrooms; children that we as teachers will be responsible for.
I am reminded of a student I had many years ago, Santo[ii]. Santo had been living in Ecuador while his parents were in the US preparing to send for him. He was separated from his parents for 8 yrs. In that time, they had had another child. Santo had an arduous journey to N. America. He was smuggled into the country just as his parents had been – he spent months traveling from Ecuador to Mexico and then across the US before reuniting with his parents in NY. In that time he saw and experienced many difficult things – things that many adults could not bear. The memories of those days and of his struggles in his home country haunted Santo for years to come. He struggled as a learner. He struggled to learn English, to assimilate, to perform academically and to build healthy relationships with his peers. As his time in the N. American school systems progressed he began to have labels placed upon him – he was an ELL, a Long time ELL, a struggling reader, a weak writer, he was a 2, he was “low.” His report card was dotted with 1s and 2s and filled with anecdotes about his inability to keep up, to perform. As a school we were not providing him with the support he needed to manage his trauma, we were only equipped to meet his academic needs, that was our focus.
He started to get into trouble –one time it was suspected that he had run away but it seems like the truth was something much more devious (it is believed that Santo was briefly kidnapped as a way to ransom money from his parents). It would not surprise me if eventually Santo was recommended for services. Because, you see, that’s what happens to children who have endured trauma but are thrown into a system that is unable to meet their needs – they get labeled until something sticks – something that will explain that child’s brokenness but not the fractures of our educational system. The school I worked for was well intentioned but it was not capable of supporting a child who had endured so much trauma. I doubt that many would be.
Today it was reported that a young girl with down syndrome was separated from her mother at the border. The department of health and human services is not prepared nor designed to meet the needs of children with disabilities. It was not designed to even meet the needs of children held on such large scales – my husband shared with me stories of ICE agents and foster parents taking children to hospitals, serving as their guardians, yet not being able to speak Spanish and knowing nothing about the child’s medical history. Additionally, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics also visited these “centers” and identified children, toddlers and babies, whose emotional needs are not being met. The days, weeks, months that children spend in these camps will have a lasting effect on their emotional, physical and cognitive development. It is likely that many of these children’s futures will be filled with labels. They are already being called many things: illegals, animals, and infestations. Once they enter schools they are likely to face a litany of new labels: delayed, SIFE, emotionally disturbed, etc. We will likely play into the narrative that this administration has created: one in which focus on the individual failings and not on our collective failing as human beings.
Santo was able to be reunited with his family at the end of this. Most of the children we are seeing on the news, will not be.
As teachers, we all know that students who come to school with trauma struggle as learners. We also know that most schools and most teachers are wholly unprepared to meet the needs of these learners. What is happening to these children now, has great implications for our profession and we must take a stand. This policy does not make sense as a deterrent, it does not make sense financially and it does not make sense on a humanitarian level. Then again, these children are not being thought of or treated as human – they’re brown, their poor and their foreign which in this administration has become synonymous with inhuman.
I know that we are tired. Our work is hard. But we cannot go on "vacation." Not this summer - not when there are children out there who need us. So reach out to your representatives, your unions, your friends, your family, but for God's sakes do something.
For suggestions of others things you can do, check out this list courtesy of The Cut
[i] I use the word broken here with intentionality. These children will have broken hearts, broken spirits, and broken families.
[ii] Names changed