D.C. Superintendent Hanseul Kang writes in the Washington Post:
“The mother was serious as she approached the principal of her daughter’s D.C. school. Would the principal consider becoming her child’s legal guardian in the event she was deported, so her daughter, a U.S. citizen, could stay in the country?
It was a surreal question but one rooted in real fear.
The political rhetoric about immigration, along with high-profile enforcement actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has instilled palpable anxiety in immigrant families across the country, elevating a background level of uncertainty to an urgent concern. In the days after an ICE raid in Las Cruces, N.M., in February, more than 2,000 students were kept home from school. A Los Angeles community is reeling after ICE agents arrested a father moments after he dropped off his 12-year-old daughter at school.
Confusion is exacerbating fear, especially in young children, who may not fully understand the concepts of countries, borders and citizenship. During a class discussion at that same D.C. school, a student worried aloud that he’d be forced to move back to where he came from. When asked where he was from, he said Florida.
We haven’t seen any spikes in absences in the District, where Mayor Muriel Bowser has affirmed her commitment to being a sanctuary city and protecting the rights of immigrant residents. But ICE arrested 82 people in the region in a five-day sweep last month. Our schools have hosted “know your rights” workshops and fielded questions from panicked parents. At one meeting I attended, teachers pledged to parents that they would be arrested themselves before allowing ICE officials into the building. Still, it’s hard for families to know whom to trust.
I have some sense of what that’s like.
I was born in South Korea and came to the United States when I was 7 months old, on Christmas Eve, 1982. When I was 16 — excited to get a driver’s license and apply to college — I learned that I was undocumented.
In one afternoon, my world turned upside down. With all the trappings of a high school overachiever, I had assumed I could attend pretty much any college or university. But without access to federal financial aid, I might not be able to go at all. I couldn’t work, couldn’t drive, couldn’t travel outside the country. Even worse was the terrifying possibility that my family might be discovered and deported.
. . . .
That is my concern about the impact of this latest shift in rhetoric and policy on immigrants: that as a country we will convey, especially to our students, that we question their value and their abilities. Not only is that message dehumanizing, but it discourages the talent and leadership we need to continue to thrive as a nation. Even as many have spoken out in support of preserving Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, I worry that in advocating for a small exception to U.S. immigration policy — albeit for young people in a uniquely vulnerable position, those who came to the United States without legal documentation, or who fell out of legal status, as children — we miss the broader value of immigrants to our country.
Educators can be an important source of support for students and their families. They were for me. But it should not fall on an individual principal or teacher to protect a child or a family from immigration enforcement, and no parent should have to ask them to. We have to do better for our students and for our nation.”
Superintendent Kang is a wonderful example of why Jeff Sessions and his white nationalist cohorts are wrong in failing to value the contributions of all types of migrants to the prosperity and success of the US. What kind of nation, with what kind of national values, intentionally creates a climate of fear among its youth who are the hope for the future?