Students are collateral damage in immigration raids

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by Sabrina Holcomb

For many of America’s most vulnerable students, the newest round of immigration raids by the Department of Homeland Security is not just news but the stuff of nightmares.

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“My students are terrified they’ll come home to an empty house or snatched up when they come to school,” says Utah middle school teacher Chelsie Helton, whose worst fears were realized when one of her students didn’t show up for school week before last.

Connecting with her student on Facebook, Helton learned the 11-year-old had been devastated when his father was taken from their home in the middle of the night. The start of a new year and school semester has coincided with an aggressive deportation campaign by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) targeting recent refugees who’ve received their final removal orders, many of them single mothers and children seeking asylum from horrific violence in Central America.

favianna-welcome-dreamers4The nationwide raids are sending shockwaves through a population of students who already suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. As deportation fears rise, some schools are reporting a drop in attendance.

Helton, who says the raids have reopened traumatic wounds for her students, was heartbroken when one of her students cried through an entire class period. “Her father was taken six years ago and she hasn’t seen him since. Now she’s scared she’ll lose her mother too. It’s a PTSD moment for my students. The fear is unbelievable.”

Educators across the country are telling similar stories of students who live in a constant state of terror that manifests as chronic illness, panic attacks, and low self-confidence.

Concerned educators and immigration advocates are doing what they can to help students and their families through the trauma caused by the latest raids. Hundreds of educators and school administrators sent a formal letter to DHS denouncing home raids, some of which have been conducted without warrants or consent.

NEA is working with members on an information campaign to help educate members about the current situation and what they can do to support and protect their students.

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Display created by Helton’s students.

Member activists are working with NEA partner United We Dream to circulate their “know your rights” flier and other resources telling families what to do if ICE agents come to their homes. And Dreamers are posting videos to warn families when ICE trucks are seen in their neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, educators who are on the front lines are trying to do their jobs while reassuring frightened students.

Chelsie Helton and her student both broke down when he returned to class after being out a week. “Before this happened, he was stepping out of his comfort zone, contributing in class, and doing better in school. Now his world is shattered. He’s afraid they’re going to come and take his mom too, and I’m afraid he’ll lose all the progress he’s made in school.”

As someone who grew up 45 minutes from the border, Helton says she understands immigration politics but “when you’re a teacher and 65 percent of your kids are Latino, you wonder when you walk into class who’s going to be missing today and who’s going to be in tears. Physical deportation is bad enough, but the kids left behind are undergoing mental, emotional, and spiritual deportation.”

Reader Comments

  1. Thought about joining the VEA – went to the website for more information and realized right away that they are openly biased, and promoting a far left agenda. I wanted representation, not indoctrination and brainwashing. I will keep my dues.

  2. There are so many aspects to this issue and obviously a lack empathy from many. The issue obviously isn’t black and white; there is much more to it. I have witnessed many of these so called illegal families contribute much more to this country than many US citizens. I have also seen their love and dedication for this country. As educators many of us have the privilege of getting to know these people. I cannot be upset at parents who are looking for ways to get their children out of the misery they face in their home country. I also understand that if the immigration process was simple illigal immigration wouldn’t be an issue. I am for immediate deportation of individuals who come into this country and do not contribute, also for deportation of those involved in criminal activity.
    We need to start looking around and stop being so selfish. There is so much suffering in this world yet most of us chose to look the other way. It just doesn’t seem fair. It’s sad to see that many of us who chose a career that involves giving can’t see past our selfish ways.

  3. Sabrina, your article is a joke. Why aren’t you angry at the parents who illegally brought their kids here in the first place. ICE is not to blame here. They are enforcing the laws that were passed through a democratic process. Why are you wanting to keep people who already have shown they have no respect for our laws?

    1. What about Americans and others who exploit immigrants, they take their money and promise them a life in America and legal papers, but are actually dying before they get here or sold into slavery? What if you were in the same position and you had a choice death or immigrate illegally to protect your family? Should other countries start kicking out illegal immigrants. There are many Americans that illegally enter into Mexico and nothing is done. When parents illegally enter America, why do we punish those who have no choice. Send them back and you may be sending them to a life of death. Could you wait for help to save your family. Elis Island was not always there, our own ancestors are immigrants, My Great-Grandfather never entered through Elis Island. Do I agree completely with illegal immigration No, but maybe something needs to be done to help our neighbors, because someday we are going to need their help and I pray they are more approachable then those from America. We are the US of A instead of condemning them maybe we should be helping them find their way to getting their green card to live here. I pray for comfort for these children who don’t have a choice in the matter and are being torn apart by adults who should be protecting them.

  4. In uncountable ways, this whole situation is unconscionable and tragic. We are talking CHILDREN’s lives being torn apart — the future for them looks so bleak and unstable their emotional health will forever be compromised — The United States is falling immeasurably short on all aspects of the treatment of Immigrant families — if we can go to the moon…invent countless gadgets that people stand in line and pay huge amounts of money for, is there no one caring enough to work out a decent and moral plan for Immigrant families?

  5. When children are fleeing extreme violence, as most from Central America are, they should not be punished for immigrating illegally to the USA. Our immigration system is broken. We praise historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks for standing up to unjust laws. It’s time to stand up for the human rights of children. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights says in Article 14 that “everyone has the right… to seek asylum from persecution.” Article 25 says that children are entitled to special care and assistance. I don’t understand how Americans — a country built by immigrants — can be so anti-immigrant. Especially when it comes to children. We should welcome them with compassion and resources. We need to create a pathway to citizenship for law-abiding migrants who have faced unbelievable hardship just for a chance at the American Dream.

    1. Let’s get the terminology straight. Most people are not anti- immigrant. They are anti- illegal immigration. I support immigration for people who apply and enter this country legally as our ancestors did when they were processed through Ellis island. I support using my tax dollars to help legal immigrants but I don’t support using my tax dollars to fund free college tuition for illegal immigrants. If someone is persecuted in their country, they can apply for asylum in this country. Stop promoting illegal immigration which is the cause of these students living in fear.

      1. I wholeheartedly agree. The issue is that they are illegal. Why are we condoning illegal activity and made to feel that by opposing these practices, we are somehow racist or anti-immigration? Should we condone other illegal activity and help criminals commit these activities? We don’t have enough resources to support everyone in the world – we can’t provide a safe haven for everyone; however, if people want to request admittance or asylum legally then by all means they should. I am a teacher and a parent. I care about people who are less fortunate, but this is a problem that should have been dealt with long before it got to this point. Deportation is necessary. Is it a slap in the face to all of the people who entered the county legally when we allow others to enter and stay illegally. The people enforcing the laws are not the enemy they are portrayed to be.

  6. This is a very clear issue: if you are here illegally, never mind the political correctness of ‘undocumented’ nonsense, you need to be put on the first boat/plane/train back to your native land.

    How can we survive as a country with open borders? In case you were not looking we are at war. ISIS, Iran, and others have vowed to destroy our way of life and destroy Israel.

    The other contributors are correct there is no middle ground, if you are here illegally, leave, now. Take all your kids with you. Stop taking from American taxpayers.

    There are laws that do not allow people to be here illegally. Our misguided, lost, constitutional busting president has chosen to ignore laws at his pleasure. Disgraceful. Next thing you know, he’ll want to take guns away from people even though he knows its a useless, unconstitutional exercise.

    1. In case you weren’t looking, the article is about very specific deportations, which have actually increased under President Obama- a policy which you might agree with.
      Bringing in false information, such as undocumented folks taking more than they contribute to the U.S. economy, along with unrelated, fear-mongering references to ISIS and the leap to gun control made me, as a reader, lose you after your first paragraph.

  7. This is a very horrific situation for these students, their classmates and the educators who care about them. families. I understand the desire to make sure folks are in the US legally. That said, it troubles me there seems to be no avenue of compromise, to stop the current breaking up of undocumented families trying to educate their children and hopefully, help them become legal citizens. Thank you Education Votes / Sabrina Holcomb for shedding light on this latest phase in the ongoing US immigration policy saga.

    1. There is no middle ground on this issue, and there should be none. School systems are more concerned about child count which ties directly to school funding.

      1. Are you suggesting that teachers don’t care about the suffering of their students, only about having them as a number which will guarantee increased funding? That would certainly be an example of the difference between good schools and bad. Thank god there are still schools where robotic thinking isn’t practiced, and where teachers think of their students as small human beings who suffer and struggle and are worthy of support in whatever ways are necessary to realize their potential and support their sense of dignity.

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