Tag Archives: undocumented students

What Happened to Carlos?

This post is written by member Erin O’Neill Armendarez, NCTE’s Higher Education Policy Analyst for New Mexico.

One semester years ago, after noticing a student’s uncharacteristic absence, I asked the students who usually sat next to him, “Where is Carlos?”

“Oh, he was deported, ma’am,” was the casual response. Deported? Wait. Carlos — not a US citizen?

From time to time, I still wonder about him.  Occasionally I find myself remembering an essay written by a student from Juarez, Mexico, who often crossed the border to visit family and friends. His essay described an afternoon in Mexico when suddenly the loud, staccato sound of automatic weapons fire sent the entire street into immediate panic. Finally summoning the courage to explore, my student encountered two strangers lying dead on the street, haloed in rings of blood.

“How did that make you feel?” I wrote in the margins of his essay, fumbling to prompt him toward some larger purpose. “I don’t know,” he said when we discussed it. “It just happened. It happens a lot.”

Right. Okay—pretty good structure, development, and punctuation — we will give the essay a pass.

With my nose to the grindstone teaching, I did not know much about the DACA program, New Mexico law with respect to undocumented students, or even why an undocumented person would not do the obvious thing —  get into the citizenship pipeline and out of the spotlight.

Now I find I have to think about these things, because I care about all the students who have a legal right to be in my classroom, about their ability to learn and their freedom to come to class without having to worry about whether their parents, grandparents, or siblings will be unlawfully questioned, apprehended, and taken to one of the nation’s detention centers before the evening meal.

After ICE raids in February 2017 coincided with “A Day without Immigrants” activities, absence spiked almost 148% in Las Cruces public elementary schools. Officials saw a connection and immediately made a public announcement that schools and buses are considered “sensitive” spaces where inquiries and arrests would not be made without a warrant or some other compelling reason.

Newer, tighter federal regulations probably will not cause families to voluntarily send their undocumented members back to wherever they came from, as the risk of returning for most far outweighs the risk of staying. Many families immigrated to avoid ongoing, life-threatening violence in their communities. Alternatively, they immigrated to avoid the desperation of poverty and to take advantage of the chance to work and to meaningfully contribute to a society where a stable, prosperous life might be possible. Nevertheless, this new climate of fear could keep students in the shadows indefinitely as they and their families do their best to avoid sudden detention or deportation.

Whatever we might believe about public rhetoric and federal policy with respect to undocumented immigrants, I hope we can all agree on this: children should be in school. To learn and to grow as they should, they also need to be cared for by stable families able to meet their basic needs.

Yes, our schools are already populated with too many children whose parents are US citizens struggling below the poverty line; too many children in our nation’s schools are exposed to horrifying trauma and crime. New Mexico hovers at the top of the national rankings for child poverty and for violence against children. However, addressing the needs of one group of children should not necessitate abandoning the needs of another group. Kids are kids.

The needs of all children should be prioritized. Children of refugees often have trouble learning and focusing in school. The American Psychological Association and other mental health agencies have convincingly documented the depression, anxiety, and PTSD suffered by refugee students scarred by past trauma and the constant threat of separation from loved ones. If that were not enough, many immigrant children are bullied at school because of obvious differences in dress or ethnicity.  Some suffer the humiliation of having their spoken English mocked by classmates.

Children have no power over their own legal status; they are completely dependent on the adults around them and on our legal system. For a variety of reasons, legal status can be virtually impossible to get for many family members of documented immigrants and US citizens. In the best of circumstances, for many it would (and in fact does) take decades. Meanwhile, for their children enrolled in classes in the United States, the very real possibility of deportation or detention (de facto imprisonment) looms.

As educators we are not able to solve all of these complex problems. But at the very least, we should be willing to welcome each and every student who is legally admitted to our classrooms, unlike an Albuquerque high school teacher who posted on Facebook that she believed undocumented students should be deported to “better serve American citizen students.”

Before posting, she probably did not think carefully enough about how her words would hurt her students, kids who were already hurting in ways she knew nothing about.

As educators we are constantly searching for the best ways to serve all of our students. Although it can be a struggle, we strive to offer the best possible educational opportunities to every single one, offering them a haven against violence, prejudice, and ignorance.

I understand educators will have varying opinions on this topic. My point is that until the recent ICE raids, I never thought carefully about the issues undocumented immigrants — including students — face beyond their struggles with our perplexing idiomatic expressions and our less than intuitive system for spelling in English.

Now I want to be sure that all of my students are able to attend all of their classes. I want to be sure they know they are truly welcome, respected by all in my classroom and on campus.

It is my job to support their dreams with high-quality educational experiences no matter where they came from or how they got here. While I do not know where they have been, I know what they might become if given a chance.

Erin O’Neill Armendarez teaches writing courses at New Mexico State University Alamogordo, a community college in southcentral New Mexico. 

Please read NCTE’s 2015 Resolution on the Dignity and Education of Immigrant, Undocumented and Unaccompanied Youth.

What Happened in Your State This December?

capitol buildingThis past month, ten policy analysts published reports about what occurred in California, Connecticut, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, and Virginia.

Higher Education

In New Mexico Colleges and Universities Consider Sanctuary Status for Undocumented Students, Erin O’Neill explored the various positions taken by institutions of higher learning in New Mexico toward their immigrant students.

Dan Melzer shared the CWPA (Council of Writing Program Administrators) Statement on Supporting a Diverse and Inclusive Environment to affirm CWPA’s commitment to diverse students.

Dan also discussed a report linking Developmental Writing and Food and Housing Insecurity in California college students, noting that “socioeconomic disadvantages play a central role in which student populations are tracked into remediation in college writing.”

In Low-Income Students at CT Public Universities and Community Colleges: Some Context, Stephen Ferruci noted similar concerns, stating “Income is a stark indicator of enrollment in and graduation from any post-secondary institution.”

Jalissa Bates reported that Louisiana public scholarship slashes half of its funding for college students.


Daniel Yowell lists questions by elected leadership in Michigan over Senate attempts to push pension reform through lame duck session.

According to Robin Holland, Ohio’s New Graduation Requirements have raised concerns among state superintendents due to the high percentage of students not on track to meet them.

Darlene Dyer reported that in Idaho, a Teacher Evaluation State Review Holds Incomplete, Illegal Data and that corrective action would be taken.

Leila Christenbury published the VATE Response to Virginia Board of Education regarding a proposed amendment relating to “sexually explicit” instructional materials.

Emily Zuccaro discusses the possibility of Charter Schools in Kentucky, “one of seven states that currently do not have any charter schools.”

Ezra Hyland shares Two more grants for Minnesota teachers, one for charter schools and the other a Teachers and Technology grant for PreK-12 private or public schools.

When Learning gets Personal, Part 3: Students Save a Classmate

This post is written by Bryan Christopher, NCTE’s P12 Policy Analyst from North Carolina. It is the third part of a series about Wildin Acosta, an undocumented student. You can read the first part here and the second part here

In Part 2, the students requested and obtained funding to travel from North Carolina to Washington, DC to meet with federal representatives. 

Photo by Julie Farkas

The students briefed Congress on the harmful effects of ICE raids targeting children in their school and community, answered questions in both English and Spanish for print, TV, and radio media, and participated in a roundtable discussion with the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary King, and the Department of Education.

They told policymakers Wildin was a good student, that he stayed out of trouble and was involved in clubs and sports. Secretary King asked them questions about his educational opportunities at Stewart Detention Center (Stewart). My colleague showed him the package of homework assignments Riverside teachers mailed to Wildin, which was rejected and returned to sender.

“It’s jail,” one of my students said. “He’s not learning anything.”

The trip created more media coverage, so my students were disappointed that something more didn’t come from it. At graduation students again donned white wristbands in a show of solidarity. The student body president and salutatorian both mentioned Wildin in their speeches and called for equal opportunities for all students.

I told them that, while it feels like they failed because Wildin wasn’t with them, someday they’ll realize what they’d accomplished.

“You picked a fight with the government, and you didn’t lose,” I said. “How many people can say that?”

But my consolation was little help as they learned that, while they received their diplomas, Wildin was in solitary confinement.

Following Wildin’s 10-day stint in solitary, a student wrote an open letter to Jeh Johnson. News outlets reported more ICE raids, and the New York Times mentioned Wildin again in articles on June 24 and July 4.

Then, on July 19, the BIA reopened Wildin’s case, giving him a chance to argue for more permanent asylum in federal court. Advocates barraged Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorcas’s office with phone calls requesting Wildin’s immediate release. Calls were “noted,” but he remained at Stewart.

Three weeks later a judge scheduled his bond hearing for August 9. Within hours of the announcement dozens of Durham teachers, students, and community advocates made plans to attend. The hearing was quickly cancelled and officials instead agreed to release Wildin on $10,000 bond. The money was raised in less than 48 hours.

More than six months after his arrest, Wildin finally returned to Durham on August 12. After two weeks of recuperation, he held a press conference.

Photo by senior Ray Starn

He spoke to reporters for more than an hour about his experience, beginning with his life in Honduras. He described the death threats he received from gangs that prompted him to leave, the officers he bribed at the Guatemalan and Mexican borders, getting stopped at the US border and spending several days in the “ICE Box” before joining his parents in North Carolina.

He talked about his time at Stewart, the other teens he watched come and go, and the dark days he spent in “that place” while his classmates walked in June.

He said his darkest moment came one day in July, when he asked an officer when he’d be free.

“Kid, I’ve seen your record,” the officer said. “I don’t know why you’re here.”

Photo by senior Ray Starn

He recounted the phone call he received when his family had raised his bond money. He jumped for joy in celebration and told the advocates in the audience that, if they ever needed anything, to please call him.

He vowed to fight for the North Carolina teens who remained at Stewart and refused to rest until they, too, are released.

“If I can be a voice for my community,” he said, “I will.”

When the press conference ended I met Wildin for the first time. He posed for photos with my students, some of whom had also never met him.

Photo by senior Ray Starn

Wildin returned to Riverside High School on August 29. He’ll earn his final three credits this fall and will graduate in December.

I wrote last May about knowing when to let my students lead. The first three months of the #FreeWildin campaign taught me how to recognize when it’s best to stay out of their way. My students did so much, so fast, that it was clear they didn’t need my help.

But when their advocacy efforts began to stall, I felt their frustration, shared their disappointment, and wanted to help. The last three months showed me how, when their leadership stalled, to serve them once again.

To get Wildin back, they needed to lead and I needed to follow. Together we restored his opportunity to graduate, and my community, school, and teaching will never be the same.

Bryan Christopher teaches English and Journalism at Riverside High School in Durham, NC. He’s also an NCTE Policy Analyst and Hope Street Teacher Voice Fellow. Email or Follow him @bryanchristo4. 

When Learning gets Personal, Part 2: Amplifying Student Voice

This post is written by Bryan Christopher, NCTE’s P12 Policy Analyst from North Carolina. It is the second part of a series about Wildin Acosta, an undocumented student. You can read the first part here

By Emilee Bachman

On January 28, Wildin Acosta, an undocumented high school senior in Durham, NC, was arrested on his way to school. On August 29, he returned to school again, thanks to the advocacy efforts of his teachers, community, and, most of all, classmates.

In part one I wrote about the demonstrations, articles, conversations with lawmakers, and social media campaigns my student-advocates organized to halt Wildin’s deportation. But shortly after, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldaña denied US Congressman G. K. Butterfield’s request for Wildin’s release from Stewart Detention Center until the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) reached a decision on his case. It effectively ended his opportunity to finish the final semester of his senior year and graduate, and my students’ momentum slowed considerably.

With an unrelated trip to Washington, DC, on my own schedule, I offered to advocate on their behalf during a few spare hours near the White House. They made a few calls, sent several emails, and handed me a stack of papers, delivery route, and list of instructions a few hours later.

Photo by senior Anna James

I landed in Washington the next morning, caught the train to Butterfield’s office, and met with Kyle Parker, one of his assistants. I handed him a few copies of The Pirates’ Hook, our school newspaper, with a photo of Butterfield’s visit on the cover. As Parker paged through the issue he noticed several articles written in both English and Spanish. It opened up a wider conversation about how much Durham has changed in the past 15 years and what makes it unique from other communities in North Carolina.

He didn’t have much to offer about Wildin, other than Butterfield’s slow-moving plans to visit Stewart. But he did say that, during the six years he’d spent working in Washington, he’d never seen anything like this before.

“Let’s be clear,” he said. “If it wasn’t for those kids at Riverside, Wildin would already be back in Honduras. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

“Americans see our government as this big, lumbering machine,” he went on. “It’s slow moving but steady by design. These kids, what they’ve done . . . it stopped the machine, if only for a minute.”

“They don’t know that yet,” I said. “Someday they’ll realize the magnitude of what they’ve done, but right now they just want Wildin to graduate.”

Photo by senior Anna James

From Butterfield’s office I walked to a nearby cafe to meet Julie Mao, a deportation defense attorney with the National Lawyers Guild and member of Wildin’s legal team. She was star-struck to see so many student-advocates on the newspaper cover with Butterfield.

“We should bring them up here,” she said. “Let the press know. Get Butterfield to help.”

“It would be a great opportunity,” I said, “but funding could be an issue, and exams begin soon.”

She said she’d look for funding and let me know. In the meantime, she asked that, during my visit to the White House for President Obama’s Teacher Appreciation assembly, I hand lawmakers a folder filled with letters, a New York Times editorial about Wildin, and the April issue of The Pirates’ Hook.

“If you meet President Obama,” she said. “You can put this on his radar.”

We finished our coffee and she helped me hail a cab to the White House. After moving through seven security checkpoints, I walked past the president’s home movie theater toward the East Wing of the White House. I checked my coat and, watching the other teachers head empty-handed toward the reception, left my bag and Julie’s folder, too.

As it turned out, I couldn’t have made the hand-off, anyway. President Obama spoke to a small group of us for almost an hour, but only the front rows got handshakes. I missed him by fifteen feet.

After the assembly we were allowed to explore the East Wing. I grabbed a drink, meandered through the Green Room and bumped into Secretary of Education John King. He was taking a selfie with another teacher, and I was next in line.

King had met another Riverside teacher the week before during one of his “Tea with Teachers” events. After posing for my photo I thanked him for taking the time to speak with my colleague and listen to Wildin’s story.

US Secretary of Education John King and Bryan Christopher

King told me that he appreciates the work my school and students are doing to advocate for Wildin’s return. He said he’s reached out to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, but immigration policy is complicated and his hands are tied when it comes to making exceptions for individual students.

It was a more personal answer than I’d expected, but not good enough for my students.

“I understand, Secretary King,” I said. “But if you’d like another perspective, I have some students who would love to discuss it with you.”

He paused.

“You know,” he said, “we do invite students to share their perspectives on policy, and it would be an appropriate setting for their stories. Get in touch with the Department of Ed and see if we can set it up.”

I thanked him, finished my tour of the East Wing, and caught a flight home that night. Before falling asleep I emailed Julie, apologized for not delivering the folder, and asked her to check about that funding.

The next day at school I asked my students if they’d be interested in visiting DC, contacted the Department of Ed, and discussed fundraising options.

To be continued…

Bryan Christopher teaches English and Journalism at Riverside High School in Durham, NC. He’s also an NCTE Policy Analyst and Hope Street Teacher Voice Fellow. Email or Follow him @bryanchristo4. 

What Happened in Your State this September?

capitol buildingThis past month, fifteen policy analysts published reports about what occurred in the following states: California, Connecticut, Idaho, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Higher Education

Stephen Ferruci previews a bill in Connecticut that would help undocumented students “access institutional financial assistance.”

Dan Melzer describes legislation that passed in California, awaiting the governor’s signature, in AB 1690 Outlines Minimum Standards for Adjunct Instructors at California Community Colleges.

Michael Gos continues his series in Campus Carry Law VI, noting that the injunction requested by three professors against enforcement of the new University of Texas campus carry policy was denied while the lawsuit moves forward.

Higher Education/P–12 Education

As part of a trend all over the United States, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Adopts Emergency Teacher Licensing Rules to Address Teacher Shortage. Donna Pasternak notes that softening licensing requirements for K–12 teachers will impact not only school districts but also schools of education and departments of English.

Derek Kulnis describes New York City’s efforts to diversify its teaching force through a program called NYC Men Teach, which recruits men of color through mentoring programs or alternative pathways.

Michael Gos outlines the budget cuts, requested by Texas leaders, to all state agencies, including K–12 and higher education, noting the particular impact on community colleges.

P–12 Education

In Keystone Test No Longer an Exit Exam, Aileen Hower notes that Pennsylvania is reviewing alternative assessments. New Jersey, on the other hand, will “triple the weight of PARCC scores in teacher evaluations,” according to Kristen Turner.

Again in Pennsylvania, Aileen Hower shares Katie Meyer’s article about the National Labor Relations Board ruling that a virtual charter school should be classified as a private corporation, not a public institution. Aileen also published Judge: Lower Merion Schools Misled Taxpayers, Must Revoke Tax Hike, revealing that the Merion school district had a budget surplus.

Darlene Dyer writes about Mastery Education a Reality in Idaho; in mastery education, students “advance from grade to grade based on mastering concepts instead of seat time or a passing grade.”

Karen Henderson reports that MATELA (the Montana Association of Teachers of English Language Arts) will have a “significant presence” at the Montana Educators’ Conference in October through a number of presentations.

In response to a Montana State Board of Education ruling on writing programs, MATELA issued its own policy statement, which Anna Baldwin describes in Policy Assistance Offered for Significant Writing Programs.

Tiffany Rehbein reports from Wyoming that ACT Scores Increase[d] and Town Hall Meetings Give Wyoming Residents Voice on ESSA Implementation.

Robin Holland has been following teachers in Cleveland, posting these two reports: Cleveland Teachers Set to Strike in Ohio and Teacher Strike Averted in Cleveland, Ohio.

Clancy Ratliff describes the release by the Louisiana State Board of Education of a Digital Literacy Guide. Jalissa Bates shares that Louisiana Children with Disabilities Receive Boost with Federal Grant of $7 million.

Pamela Doiley questions whether Massachusetts will pass financial literacy legislation.

Derek Kulnis reports that New York City will revise the way it tests water for lead in all of its schools.