August 7, 2019

Demand for Teachers to Take Action for Undocumented Students

Rayna Acha • Student at South High School in Minneapolis

Students have complex identities which can be challenging for teachers to understand. Immigration status, something that is not visible, can be a stressor in some students lives. The current environment is inciting fear in undocumented Americans through mass deportations, a border wall, and much more. Furthermore, there are over one million undocumented children in the U.S., many of them of school age. Plyler v. Doe (1982) promised access to K-12 education for every child no matter their status. In times like this, that promise needs to be protected in schools by everyone, including teachers.

As a high school student and activist in Minneapolis, advocating for my classmates is important to me. I want to equip educators with the tools they need to help students. In order to do this, I have searched for resources, information, and best-practices. And, perhaps most importantly, I’ve spoken with my classmates who are most impacted to develop steps teachers can take in order to help students whose status makes them vulnerable to deportation. This is not an exhaustive list, they are steps I have researched that could make a difference in students lives. 

Action Steps for Educators

Be mindful by changing your language: By using “undocumented” and “immigrant” as opposed to “illegal” and “alien” you are showing students some allyship. Language can create a safe space and trust between you and your students. When discussing college applications and FAFSA, state if a scholarship requires a social security number or not. Some undocumented students feel alone when it comes to the college search. The student I spoke to told me that she had to do individual research to figure out her options. In class, her teachers did not discuss options for undocumented students, they assumed that everyone is documented which can be isolating. As a result, she had to seek out information on her own until one teacher informed her about a program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College for undocumented students. She cried because for once she felt the support that she needed from her teachers. Small actions like this can make students feel less isolated without immigration status being the center of attention. 

Create a safe space: By adding posters, adjusting language, and normalizing not having citizenship status, students will trust teachers more. Some examples of helpful posters could consist of emergency resources, “all are welcome here” signs, Know Your Rights posters in more than one language, etc. If students feel comfortable they may potentially disclose their status to you and, with their permission, you can connect them with resources such as scholarships, lawyers, etc. 

Inclusive lesson plans: If all students, no matter their status, participate in immigration-related lessons, the topic becomes normalized which makes undocumented students safer. One step you could take would be having Know Your Rights trainings in schools for all students. Remember ICE is prohibited from entering sensitive locations, including schools! Try to fit these into your teaching schedule.

Understanding: As a teacher, you should understand your students’ rights, who they are, and how to be culturally sensitive. You should embrace diversity by getting to know your students and their families and discussing immigration and its connection to social justice issues as a whole. You don’t have to be a social justice warrior, just be conscious of students differences and needs.

Learn about the school-to-deportation pipeline affecting undocumented students facing discipline: The School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP) is a very complicated issue, and within it there is a School-to-Deportation Pipeline. STPP is the disproportionate tendency for students of color to become incarcerated due to school discipline disparities. While black and brown documented students have higher rates of incarceration due to discipline disparities in school, undocumented students could face deportation. For example, a nineteen-year-old Texas senior named Dennis Rivera-Sarmiento was arrested by the school resource officer after defending himself from a bully at school. He had never gotten into trouble before yet the incident resulted in him going to the county jail and three immigration detention centers. Now, he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to attend college or stay in the U.S. (Teaching Tolerance, Dillard, Web). The pipeline is important for teachers to understand since it could change a students projection.


Read more about the School-to-Deportation Pipeline.
Download posters.
Know Your Rights.

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Rayna Acha
Rayna Acha is a senior at South High School in Minneapolis, a community activist, and a Student Voice Intern at Educators for Excellence - Minnesota.

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Demand for Teachers to Take Action for Undocumented Students