Duran & Miranda: Trauma of Trump Era on Immigrant Students Must Be Addressed to Ensure Future Success
June 8, 2021
By Crisanta Duran, NY State Director for DFER and former Colorado Speaker of the House, and Frankie Miranda, Hispanic Federation President and CEO.
President Biden has promised a more humane approach to immigration, and Congress is taking up comprehensive immigration reform for the first time in more than a decade. At the beginning of what could be a new dawn for immigrants, lawmakers must address the unique educational needs of immigrant families, many of whom are suffering from acute trauma due to the pandemic and a long history of racist rhetoric targeting immigrants, which was amplified by the four years of attacks from former President Trump.
President Trump’s aggressive approach to immigration enforcement also resulted in an unprecedented deployment of ICE agents across the country, with deportations increasing by nearly 150 percent from 2017 to 2019 in New York City alone.
Many families were torn apart, and studies have shown that President Trump’s aggressive approach to immigration enforcement caused significant depression and anxiety for both students and educators, hurting students’ attendance and performance, and increasing mistrust among immigrant families toward schools systems that did not respond to their needs. The federal government’s discriminatory approach toward undocumented and mixed-status families during the pandemic has only exacerbated this trauma and mistrust.
Students from immigrant families are more likely to have parents working in essential industries, and to live in multi-generational households with older relatives at high-risk from COVID. Given these risks, leading public health experts emphasized the need for financial and healthcare assistance to immigrant communities at the onset of the pandemic. Congress ignored these warnings, however, excluding undocumented immigrants from financial relief in the CARES Act, and refused to provide financial relief to mixed-status families until December 2020.
The Trump administration exacerbated Congress’s inaction with lax worker safety enforcement in industries with high concentrations of immigrant essential workers, and covertly ratcheting up immigration enforcement efforts during the pandemic. As a result, many parents faced the impossible choice of risking deportation and getting sick, or driving their families into food insecurity and possible eviction. Unsurprisingly, immigrant communities have some of the highest rates of COVID cases and deaths in the United States.
These stark realities have had a profound impact on the mental health of many immigrant students at a time when juvenile mental health hospitalizations are skyrocketing. It is imperative that lawmakers enact policies re-establishing immigrant communities’ faith and trust in schools, and directing critical mental health resources to immigrant students in need of support.
New York Senator Robert Jackson introduced legislation ensuring students have access to professional mental health support through requiring schools to have full-time licensed social workers and psychologists on staff. Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez also introduced legislation requiring educators and administrators to complete mental health first aid training, while Senator Simcha Felder introduced legislation requiring educators to complete training in trauma-informed care. These bills should include resources specifically targeted for immigrant students and immediately passed into law.
Additionally, Assemblyman Nily Rozic proposed the Education Equity Act, which establishes a language assistance program for parents and guardians of New York public school students. If enacted, the new law would create websites in multiple languages informing parents of their rights to translation services, and require school districts to create annual language assistance plans for their communities. School districts would also be required to produce annual reports assessing language needs for their local boards of education.
Following a year of remote learning, students, parents, and educators are anxiously awaiting the day when children can safely return to the classroom. A vaccine provides hope that this day is coming soon, but for immigrant families, sending children back to school will require additional support. Let’s give these parents and students the tools they need to succeed.
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