Ready Together: Professional Development for Educators Working With Students in Immigration Crisis

Ready Together: Professional Development for Educators Working With Students in Immigration Crisis

Alpha Martínez Suárez (The University of Texas at San Antonio, USA) and Kristen M. Lindahl (The University of Texas at San Antonio, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9348-5.ch016


Many challenges that English learners (ELs) face are compounded for children and families from undocumented immigrant backgrounds. Educators, school support staff, community-based organizations, and other service providers play key roles in advocating during a sudden immigration crisis. A sudden immigration crisis occurs when children experience the sudden loss of a caregiver or family member due to deportation procedures. This chapter describes a “Ready Together” (RE-TO) rapid response initiative, which consists of three components: First, it provides a rationale as to why teacher education programs should prepare future educators to respond in case of sudden immigration crisis. Second, it conceives of a “rapid response team” for schools working with students from diverse immigration backgrounds that includes roles and responsibilities for administrators, counselors, and teachers, and third, it provides examples of emergency preparedness plans, workshop topics and materials that prepare families with documents and directives in case of a sudden immigration crisis.
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In shifting the educational paradigm surrounding practices for English Learners (ELs) in U.S. K-12 public schools, much attention has been paid to the various roles played by educators relative to linguistically diverse students. Are they content teachers? Language teachers? Evaluators? Counselors? Advocates? While educators may occupy any or all of these roles, the current “demographic imperative” requires that responsibility for effectively reaching ELs belong to entire school or district communities, rather than with a small number of English as a Second Language (ESL) or Bilingual Education (BE) specialists (García, Jensen, & Scribner, 2009). Still, successfully educating English Learners (ELs) is a highly complex endeavor, as ELs are one of, if not the, most diverse student sub-groups. ELs can vary along lines of first language (L1), country of origin, background experiences, formal schooling time, family immigration status, socioeconomic level, and exposure to English learning contexts, to name only a few (Garcia & Kleifgen, 2010).

One factor that can potentially impact EL performance in school is their family’s immigration status. Some ELs may belong to families who have one or members that can be considered undocumented, or who are residing in the United States without official authorization to be in the country, either because they entered without permission, or they stayed past the terms of granted permission (such as from a tourist or business visa). To date, 11.1 million people or about the 3.5% of the total population in the United States may be considered undocumented immigrants (Warren & Kerwin, 2017; U.S. Pew Research Center, 2016). However, this number typically refers to adults, as children who are minors should not be held responsible for entering the country if brought with their parents or if they arrive as unaccompanied minors. According to the latest reports in immigration status in the U.S., there are 43.3 million immigrants or about 13.5% of the population with various immigration statuses. Over 16.7 million people in the U.S. have a family member in the same household who is undocumented, with almost 6 million U.S. born children currently living in households where one or more family members are undocumented (Mathena, 2017; Lopez, Gonzalez-Barrera, & Krogstad, 2018). They constitute what are known as “mixed-status” households where one of the parents and/or older brother or sister are undocumented while the other members of the family are U.S. residents or citizens, including the majority of their school-age children. In other words, a mixed-status family can have varying legal statuses, the most frequent situation is where the younger children have citizenship by being born in the United States and at least one parent or older sibling is a non-citizen (Mathema, 2017).

Regardless of immigration status, children are allowed to enter and remain in U.S. public schools as per the U.S. Supreme Court precedent established by the 1982 Plyler v. Doe case (Wright, 2015). This ruling indicates that all children--even those from undocumented families-- have a constitutional right to receive a free public education and college counseling services in grades K-12, regardless of their citizenship status. As such, it is highly likely that educators will be working with immigrant ELs who live in fragile immigration situations, wherein it is possible that one or more family members may be subject to legal action or even deportation without warning. Schools and teachers may be the first and/or only places that children will know to turn to for help should such an event occur.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Mixed-Status Families: A family with members of varying legal immigration status; one prevalent situation is one in which the children have citizenship by being born in the U.S. and at least one parent is a non-citizen.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): An authorized administrative program that permits individuals who came to the United States as juveniles and meet several criteria—including lacking any current lawful immigration status—to request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and eligibility for work authorization; also known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Sudden Immigration Crisis: An event where one or more parent, guardian, or caregiver is suddenly detained by immigration authorities and their situation is not clear/still unknown.

Removal Procedure: Once referred to as “deportation”, removal is the process of the U.S. government determining that an alien—that is, a non-U.S. citizen, whether in the U.S. illegally or with a green card—must be removed from the United States.

Deportation: The removal from a country of a person whose presence is unlawful or prejudicial.

Lawful Immigrant: A person who has received a type of status that allows him or her to legally reside in the U.S. This includes lawful permanent residents, refugees, asylees, temporary visitors, and others.

Minority-Serving Institution: Institutions of higher education that serve ethnic minority populations, unique both in their missions and in their day-to-day operations; may be both rural and urban-serving institutions.

Undocumented: An individual or group of people that do(es) not have the proper immigration documentation to legally stay in a country.

Non-Citizen: A person who has not obtained U.S. citizenship, but resides in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant or a lawful immigrant.

Advocate: A person that publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.

Non-Immigrant: A person who is allowed to enter the U.S. for a specific purpose for a certain period of time. This includes students, tourists, visitors, migrant laborers, and others.

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