IN THIS PAPER, THE AUTHORS DECONSTRUCT COMMONLY HELD MYTHOLOGIES ABOUT IMMIGRATION to inform the critical discourse and support those educators who strive to be fair brokers of an inclusive educational system addressing the distinct needs of immigrant students. We (teacher educators and a community organizer) emphasize and clarify verifiable information that in fact refutes seven prevalent mythologies often articulated in the public debate. In our observations and experiences, this misinformation impacts decisions and fosters biases about Latina/o immigrants in the educational field, particularly impacting students from Mexico and Latin American countries. By debunking misinformation, we seek to inform a thoughtful discourse as advocates engaged to positively influence how these students are viewed by educators. This paper highlights evidence needed to advance the learning and educational success of Latina/o students. The hope of the authors is for a more thoughtful recognition of the immigrant student plight in the face of a nationally politicized and criminalized immigration stance.
Key words: immigration reform, immigration myths, multiculturalism, teaching, DREAM Act, undocumented students, Latinos, Latinas, and education
The hope for many young educated and undocumented students seeking work and citizenship under the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act will be realized through the passage of what is a nationally and hotly debated immigration reform bill by the U.S. Congress. National critical discourse has ensued a deeper examination of Immigration Reform, which weighs heavily on the political and educational climate of public education (e.g., Johnson, 2013; National Education Association
[NEA], 2010; Passel et al., 2004). The undocumented population remains wise to political risk because they are experienced in the ways a democratic nation can shift laws to penalize and profile individuals of all ages. In this population, young people have been vigilant and are awaiting the outcome of the public debate before stepping forward to self-identify as undocumented immigrants. If the outcome of the debate is in their favor, they will move forward and obtain an education and make a contribution with their talents and abilities for full participation in the U.S. democratic society.
According to the Immigration Policy Center (IPC, 2012, Retrieved from http://www.immigrationpolicy.org), the research and policy arm of the American Immigration Council as well as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), roughly 1.8 million children entered this country before they were 16 years old. If passed nationally, the DREAM Act will offer immigrants under the age of 31 a reprieve from deportation. Furthermore, the Dream Act offers these youth, whom we refer to as Dreamers, an expedited path to citizenship if they have resided in the U.S. continuously for five years, graduated high school, and completed a minimum of two years in college or in the military. Those convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or three other misdemeanors will not be eligible (IPC, 2012).
The continued push by the Obama administration, various Congressional leaders, and immigrant advocates lends greater encouragement for the Dreamers’ hope for citizenship to move forward towards employment and further education.
The Dream Act has influenced the following states (Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, California, Illinois, Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Maryland and Florida) to allow eligible undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition at a much lower cost than out-of-state tuition. A few states, such as Texas, offer state financial aid to Dreamers (Feasley, 2011; Neuman, 2013). Other state legislatures are debating the issue but some such as Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina prohibit undocumented students from enrolling in post-secondary education.
In this study, the authors deconstruct commonly held mythologies about the teaching and learning of immigrant students. To inform the critical discourse and support those educators who strive to be fair brokers of an inclusive educational system addressing the distinct needs of immigrant students, we (teacher educators and a community organizer) emphasize and clarify verifiable information that refutes seven prevalent mythologies often articulated in the public debate. Through informal observation and experiences shared with researchers from teachers, administrators, and parents, the prevalence of misinformation has been observed to perpetuate biases and decisions about Latina/o immigrants in the educational field, particularly impacting students from Mexico and Latin American countries (Butcher & Piehl, 2007; Passel & Cohn, 2009; Rumbaut & Ewing, 2007). By debunking misinformation, we seek to inform a thoughtful discourse, thus advocating a positive influence on how these students are viewed by educational leadership. We hope to guide professional development and insights for the learning and educational success of Latina/o students. Furthermore, we aim to enable a more thoughtful recognition of the immigrant student’s plight in the face of a highly politicizing and criminalizing immigration stance.
The review of literature is framed to explain the legal, social, and educational conditions within which these young people are navigating choices for their lives. We follow this framework by providing a set of prevalent myths which we unpack and deconstruct in light of the current national discourse. Given the increasing shifts in population demographics in the U.S., and the increased Latina/o people represented in communities and schools across this nation, the timing is germane.
Review of the Literature
Latina/o immigrant youth live in the crossfire of being criminalized and having educational access restricted. Civil rights organizations such as The Southern Poverty Law Center, La Raza, and the National Immigration Law Center are responsively engaged and fighting against the profiling and criminalization of Latina/o individuals simply because of the color of their skin by emphasizing the human dignities and rights of innocent children and their safe integration into schools (Feasley, 2011; Johnson, 2013). As Hinda Seif (June, 2009) asserts, “(t)here are strong arguments for incorporating all immigrant children into the U.S. society and not penalizing their parents’ circumstances and ‘choices’” (p. 4). While the human rights of children sparks heated debate in the current immigration reform legislation, what cannot be contested is the increased “growth and dispersal of Latina/o youth” in schools and communities (Seif, June 2009, p. 3).
In just 20 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, minorities will represent 50% of the U.S. population and a large percentage of that 50% will be represented by those of Latina/o ethnicity (Frey, 2011; Passel, 2005; Seif, 2009). A closer examination of the conditions and quality of living for undocumented Latina/o parents and undocumented Latina/o children reveals the increasing fear they experience, given the hostile climate created by public debate, laws, and rhetoric used to perpetuate myths as truths (Bean et al., 2011; Becerra et al., 2012; Chaudry et al., 2010; Feasley, 2011). The public debate amplifies anti-immigrant messages and further targets sentiments and actions towards an effort to rid the country of immigrants following the attacks on September 11th, 2001. Since then there have been “stepped-up deportations, workplace raids, and the passage of hundreds of state laws and local ordinances restricting access to driver’s licenses, education, employment, housing, and even library cards” (Rumbaut, 2008, p. 183). These restrictions have created additional pressure and push to deport.
These restrictions have created additional pressure and push to deport.
[Photographic Credit; Eric Gay/AP Photo]
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 1982 case, which supports the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to guarantee all people in the nation, regardless of native or foreign-born, legal or undocumented status, full rights to an education in United States schools. Although the U.S. Supreme Court legally upholds access to a public education for all students through high school, there are significant economic and educational barriers these youth and young adults face (Becerra et al., 2012; Passel et al., 2004). Following high school graduation, just 18% of Latinas/os receive an associate degree or better (“Young Men of Color”, 2008) and only 8.4% obtain a bachelor’s degree, compared to the 31% of their white peers (NCES, May 2012). Of the approximately 65,000 foreign born students brought to the United States by their parents annually from other countries who do graduate high school in the United States, postsecondary education offers little benefit for them when these young adults cannot afford the high cost of out of state tuition and then have no clear path toward becoming legal citizens (Bean et al., 2011; Chaudry et al., 2010; Feasley, 2011; Advising Undocumented Students, 2011).
As a result, Latina/o high school graduates face specific barriers and limited access to post-secondary education, more so than their same-age peers. One option available at this time is for undocumented students to pay $465 for “deferred action” that grants a two year work permit and a temporary reprieve from possible deportation. However, DACA does not make a successful applicant eligible for citizenship nor in-state tuition in many states. A DACA card qualifies them to get a job legally, but their status disqualifies them from accessing federal and state financial aid for college, and in many states they are forced to pay out of state tuition. This further complicates the national need to fill in the demand for high tech, science, and math jobs in American companies, who are struggling, at the time of this study, to fill an estimated 3.7 million jobs (Capps et al., 2007; Hanson, 2007; Zakaria, 2012).
Without a path to citizenship, and the difficulties in accessing education, undocumented Latina/o individuals are at high risk of downward mobility given that they must remain ‘under the radar’, without status, and exiled to live a nomadic lifestyle (Medina-Burton, 2012; Seif, 2009). As one Latina immigrant student explains:
When I was younger, I easily integrated to school. I learned the English language and learned about the U.S. educational system. I did everything that I was supposed to do, such as go to school, did the homework, did well in class, behaved, and was an honor roll student. I did the same in high school. I felt like I was a U.S. citizen, and I still feel like I am. I know that I’m undocumented, but I still feel that I’m a citizen because this is all I know and this is where I have lived the majority of my life. I have been following the American values and following U.S. ideology. Yet, it is now that I’m in college that I have learned about the injustices and the discrimination that occurs [sic] in this country. I don’t see this country as the greatest country like I used to. People move here to achieve the American Dream, but not everybody gets that American Dream. Some immigrants work ten times harder than some Americans or U.S. citizens; yet, they will never reach their American Dream (Medina Burton, 2012, p. 55-56).
It is evident that the diminishing returns for disenfranchised educated Latinas/os, inability to access post-secondary education are filled with complexities that are daunting.
The authors have selected seven prevalent mythologies often used to disqualify a generation of educated youth. We engage in this examination and make a contribution to the conversations on immigration and society from the perspective that these individuals have a right to access educational systems as fair brokers of achievement. It is our claim that given the opportunity, these young Dreamers will engage in civic opportunities and be valuable contributors to a U.S. democratic society.
To investigate mythologies, the authors employed a systematic analysis by simultaneously fact checking and verifying a shared body of literature, research policy briefs, current policy reports, and other identified references. The systematic analysis process identified evidence of mythologies and misperceived claims about undocumented immigrants. We then sought verifiable statistics, reports, and resources to substantiate accurately reported evidence. Through this the false claims about undocumented Latina/o immigrants were brought to light and inaccuracies countered.
Drawing from a review of literature and the findings from our analysis, we seek to explain issues encountered by Latina/o immigrants and enlighten the civil rights debate. We applaud the Associated Press and embrace their stand to utilize the term undocumented instead of illegal (Retrieved from National Hispanic Media Coalition, 2013). This conveys their effort to raise the level of civil discourse in the direction of a more humane respect for the complexities of this issue (Washington Post, 2013).
Common ideologies portrayed in mainstream American rhetoric need to be challenged and countered. In this section, four popularized myths and three prevailing educational myths are explained. The peril imposed through these beliefs, attitudes, and values lie at the core of multiple social constructions and behaviors that underlie systematic prejudicial discriminatory practices. The four popularized mythologies are:
Myth 1: A militarized border, additional policing, and enforcement-only policies are practical solutions to the problem of undocumented immigration.
Myth 2: Immigrant people are taking over the United States, and most are here illegally, making them criminals. There is a fair waiting line for those who enter the U.S. without documentation and want to become citizens.
Myth 3: Undocumented people commit more crimes than native-born citizens and bring violence to cities and schools.
Myth 4: Undocumented people do not want to learn English or become Americans. They aren’t interested in fitting into American society.
The myths listed above are substantiated and derived from the literature on Latina/o research and reports (Anchondo, 2010; ADL Curriculum Connections, 2009; Barron, 2011; Becerra et al., 2012; Feasley, 2011; Hinojosa-Ojeda, 2012; Immigration Compliance Group, 2008; Immigration Myths and Facts, 2008; Pew Hispanic Center, 2010; Motomura, 2012; Ten Myths about Immigration, 2011).
Common ideologies portrayed in mainstream American rhetoric need to be challenged and countered. [Photographic Credit; National Public Radio/NPR]
Demystifying Popularized Mythologies
A closer scrutiny of the above myths reveals a counter narrative when the evidence is examined side by side with the popularized rhetoric and false evidence.
Myth 1: An increased militarized border, additional policing and enforcement-only policies are practical solutions to the problem of undocumented immigration.
“Sealing the border” policies and deporting the undocumented without reforming the immigration system is futile (ADL Curriculum Connections, 2009). Not providing a pathway to legal citizenship for foreign-born immigrants (National Hispanic Media Coalition, 2013) will have a horrific impact on the U.S. economy and cost billions of dollars (Barron, 2011; Becerra et al., 2012; Compliance Group, 2008). The United States prides itself on being “a nation of immigrants” (ADL Curriculum Connections, 2009) and also prides itself on its central tenets of democracy and equitable inclusion, which in turn means treating immigrant families with respect and due loyalty for the impact of their work rather than an automatic label as criminals (Hanson, 2007; Passel & Cohn, 2009). Would this not be a more democratic and humanitarian approach for the management of undocumented immigration concerns?
The Immigration Department of Homeland Security receives more funds than all other federal law agencies combined (Barron, 2011; Feasley, 2011; Motomura, 2012). As a result, more than 2 million undocumented individuals have been deported during the Bush and Obama administrations (Barron, 2011; Chaudry, Capps et al., 2010; Pew Hispanic Center, 2010). One significant economic impact of Latinas/os being criminalized and/or deported has been the lack of immigrant labor critical to agricultural industries (Pew Hispanic Center, 2010). Private prisons, however, have gained in profit by receiving tax dollars to house undocumented individuals prior to deportations (Barron, 2011; Hinojosa-Ojeda, 2012).
In fact, a further use of tax dollars has to be earmarked in the foster systems that now care for and house the left behind children (Applied Research Center, 2011). When the foster care system is designed for the unification of families, and the parents are deported, there is little hope these children will exit the system. The consequence of deportation experienced by many individuals has been the devastation of breaking up families and the loss of parents by many young American-born Latina/o citizens (Applied Research Center, 2011; University of Arizona, 2011).
Reform of the U.S. immigration policies not only allows our undocumented individuals the dignity of coming out of the shadows and working toward a path of citizenship, but it is a much more beneficial use of tax dollars than enforcement of deportation-only tactics (Barron, 2011; Becerra et al., 2012; Feasley, 2011; Hinojosa-Ojeda, 2012; Motomura, 2012).
Myth 2: Immigrant people are taking over our country, and most are here illegally, making them criminals. There is a fair waiting line for those who enter our country without documentation and want to become citizens.
Today the U.S. has approximately 36 million legal immigrants, 24 million are documented (National Hispanic Media Coalition, 2013) and 12 million (half) of those documented (formerly termed legal status) are U.S. citizens. There are an estimated 10 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. (Becerra, et al., 2012; Passel &Cohn, 2009; ADL Curriculum Connections, 2009) that account for approximately only 3% of the U.S. population (Becerra et al., 2012; Passel &Cohn, 2009). Thus, the question begs to be answered: Why is the U.S. spending billions of dollars to ward off a mere 3% of the American population who are undocumented?
It is true that there are more immigrants living in the U.S. than ever before, however, the fact is the percentage of immigrants in the overall population is historically proportional to other waves of immigration peoples during the 1850s to 1880s and the 1900s to 1930s (ADL Curriculum Connections, 2009; Becerra et al., 2012; Passel & Cohn, 2009; U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Furthermore, undocumented immigrants engage in minimal criminal behavior (ADL Curriculum Connections, 2009; Chávez, 2001; Lee, 2003). The U.S. legal system considers only severe misbehavior as criminal, and violations of less severe laws as civil offenses. People accused of more serious crimes are tried in criminal courts and can be imprisoned, while Federal immigration law indicates that unlawful presence in the country is a “civil offense” and is, in fact, not “criminal”(United States Code 8, 1325: 8 U.S.C. § 1325 : US Code – Section 1325). The sentence for a civil offense for undocumented people is deportation and the disruption of families (Barron, 2011; Feasley, 2011; Motomura, 2012; Ten Myths about Immigration, 2011). Although the U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned key parts of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law S.B. 1070 (June 15, 2012), states such as Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, and Utah have passed laws to further criminalize an immigrant because of undocumented status (American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU], 2011).
On the federal level, the U.S. Immigration Department is charged with identifying and deporting 450,000 undocumented individuals per year (Barron, 2011; Becerra et al., 2012; Feasley, 2011). There are several rationales underlying the U.S. and individual states’ punitive immigration policies: (1) anti-immigrant sentiment by state legislators and the public, (2) local police departments trained by the U.S. Immigration Department to seek out individuals suspected of being here without papers, and (3) fines collected by local jurisdictions from undocumented individuals driving without licenses that are unobtainable because of an individual’s status (Hinojosa-Ojeda, 2012; Motomura, 2012).
With the threat of deportation, criminalization, and imprisonment, undocumented people increasingly risk their lives to come to the United States. Not only in the academic literature, but also in the popular media such as TIME magazine, Zakaria (2012) documents the difficult path for gaining permission to live and work in the U.S. and describes how particularly limiting it is to people who are not highly trained in a skill, escaping political persecution, or joining close family already here (Anchondo, 2010; ADL Curriculum Connections, 2009; Immigration Compliance Group, 2008; Immigration Myths and Facts, 2008; Ten Myths about Immigration, 2011). The systematic law enforcements may unjustly scrutinize undocumented people for detention and deportation.
Myth 3: Undocumented people commit more crimes than native-born citizens and bring violence to our cities and schools.
Contrary to this societal mythology, the opposite is true. U.S. citizens are more likely to commit crimes than both undocumented and documented immigrants (Bailey & Hayes, 2006; Butcher & Piehl, 2007; Rumbaut & Ewing, 2007). Studies show that undocumented immigrants are less likely than native-born citizens to commit violent and nonviolent crime. Crime rates actually decreased during the late-1990s and mid-2000s in cities with the largest immigrant populations (e.g., border cities like San Diego and El Paso and other cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami) (Nadler, 2008; Rumbaut & Ewing, 2007). In these same areas, immigrants are more likely to live in poverty and have less than a high school education (ADL Curriculum Connections, 2009; Immigration Compliance Group, 2008).
According to Anchando (2010), recently arrived immigrants are unlikely to be involved in crime, and teenage immigrants are less likely than native-born teens to be involved in violence and drug use or other delinquent behavior. Would it not follow that assigning blame to immigrants for a supposed rise in crime further exacerbates and strengthens stereotypes and bias toward immigrant people?
Myth 4: Undocumented people don’t want to learn English or become Americans. They aren’t interested in fitting into American society.
Undocumented immigrants do learn English and climb the socioeconomic ladder over time, and their children and grandchildren make even greater strides (Becerra et al, 2012; Card, 2007; Immigration Myths and Facts, 2008; Peri, 2006; Ten Myths about Immigration, 2011). More than 80% of U.S. immigrants study to learn English and 75% of Spanish-speaking immigrants speak English after 15 years. Consequently, an overwhelming percentage encourages their children and grandchildren to be fluent English speakers, while maintaining Spanish fluency at home (ADL Curriculum Connections, 2009; Immigration Compliance Group, 2008; Roach, 2012; Ten Myths about Immigration, 2011).
Undocumented people Do want to learn English or become Americans. [Photographic Credit; Photo_by_Flickr_cesarastudillo]
Moreover, 90,000 immigrants across the nation are on waiting lists to learn English, and the demand for adult English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction far surpasses available classes (ADL Curriculum Connections, 2009). However, there are undocumented immigrants who face barriers to learning a new language including (1) many immigrants work several jobs and do not have the time, money, or child-care to attend classes; (2) English language programs in the U.S. are often underfunded and hard to get into; (3) in many rural areas, long distances to ESL classes present transportation difficulties (ADL Curriculum Connections, 2009; Capps, et al., 2007; Card, 2007, Peri, 2006; Riley, 2008; Roach, 2012; Ten Myths about Immigration, 2011). Nonetheless, teachers knowledgeable and trained in English as Second Language instructional strategies or bilingual immersion education can help this population to learn English and be successful in the school environment. Schools with immigrant student populations are wise to employ bilingual paraprofessionals or home/school liaisons who can assist nonnative English-speaking students and also help translate school information for immigrant parents.
Many immigrants desire to become U.S. citizens. In Medina-Burton’s (2012) narrative research, an immigrant student explained the hardship she experienced when she was labeled “illegal” and her desires to be an American citizen:
Being called illegal makes me feel like I am doing something bad. It feels like I am being accused of a crime such as killing somebody. It feels that I am accused of constantly breaking the laws. I do everything that any citizen is supposed to be doing, but yet you’re considered illegal because you immigrated to this country without the proper documentation. I wasn’t asked if I wanted to move here. I did not have the option and I especially didn’t make the choice of coming here illegally. I was brought here. My parents were just looking out for me and they wanted the best for me, so that is why they moved here. Most undocumented students come as young children and like I said, we had no other option and it is not our fault that we immigrated illegally. We shouldn’t be punished for something that we had no say in. We shouldn’t be punished for decisions that our parents made, which I believe were good decisions because our quality of life and opportunities in our home countries were really bad (p. 56-57).
Evidence of the efforts of individuals seeking citizenship is documented. In less than a decade, the Department of Homeland Security (2007) received 1.4 million citizenship applications and the number of new citizens has risen to the highest level in 25 years (Chaudry &Fortuny, 2010). How many of these new citizens are Latina/o? In the interests of fitting into American society, one out of every three immigrants marries outside of their national or ethnic group, and half of their children intermarry (ADL Curriculum Connections, 2009; Chaudry & Fortuny, 2010). Since 1996, the severity of restrictions and in particular, for those coming from Mexico or Central American countries, is a greater issue, as are the systemic barriers they encounter obtaining citizenship. Lastly, the integration of the undocumented person into U.S. society is a central issue in the current debate of immigration reform.
Prevailing Mythologies in the Education of Latinas/os
A prevalent mythology persists in the education of Latinas/os as well. Here we describe the background of three primary mythologies that frame misconceptions, biases, barriers, and processes in the education practices associated with documented and undocumented immigrant students.
Myth 5: Teachers do not help their Latina/o students’ with social, cultural, linguistic, and economic challenges in their learning and achievement.
Myth 6: The distinct learning needs of Latina/o students from immigrant families are evidence of deficits that require special education instruction.
Myth 7: Students who are undocumented are at risk and drop out because they are not interested in an education and they would rather seek a free ride on welfare.
The background of these myths was substantiated in the literature (Becerra et al, 2012; Capps, et al., 2007; Card, 2007, Peri, 2006; Riley, 2008). From the review of this body of work, the above list was generated.
Three Specific Educational Mythologies Debunked
A counter narrative substantiated through research is provided for each of the above myths about education.
Myth 5: Teachers do not help their Latina/o students’ with social, cultural, linguistic, and economic challenges in their learning and achievement.
There is mixed evidence found in the literature about both successes and disparities in the education policies, approaches, and achievement of Latina/o students. There are achievement and opportunity gaps (Carter, Welner, & Ladson-Billings, 2013; Hugos Lopez, 2009) and dismal graduation rates of success and what is clear is that teachers play a key role in the achievement of their students (Fuller, Kim, & Bridges, 2010; Hughes & North, 2012). Specifically, the role of the teacher is to enact democracy in their classroom abiding by the equitable principles needed to promote civil rights for all students (Becerra et al, 2012; Capps et al., 2007; Card, 2007, Nieto & Bode, 2012; Peri, 2006; Riley, 2008). The sociocultural competence and role of the teacher is therefore vital and means utilizing a variety of teaching styles and approaches designed to be responsive and sensitive to the diverse social, cultural, linguistic and economic needs of their students, particularly immigrant students; it is through education students may have what they need to achieve equality in this country (Nieto & Bode, 2012).
It is also essential to uphold the respect warranted a teacher who advocates for the humane consideration of the distinct needs of their Latina/o students, documented or undocumented. Teachers are supporting their students and making a difference. Teachers for example, under state immigration legislation along the border, are positioned to become political activists when the day-to-day rhetoric and sociopolitical agendas are focused on how to rid our country of undocumented children and their families. Teachers exhibit courage in the face of political hostility when they teach all their students, including those who may speak limited English, even if the students do not have documentation of citizenship (Bean et al., 2011; Chaudry et al., 2010; Pew Hispanic Center, 2010). Teachers with a base of educational strategies for non- or limited-English speaking immigrant students promote oral skills and cognitive academic achievement (Lucas, Villegas, & Feedson-Gonzalez, 2008; Valdes, Bunch, Snow, Lee, & Matos, 2005). Bilingual books and tapes, e-books and apps, simple and repetitive English instructions, use of technology and computer-based instruction, or a bilingual “buddy,” are just a few of the many ESL strategies teachers can utilize (Lucas et al., 2008; Valdes et al., 2005). Furthermore, bilingual immersion education programs promote proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking in both English and Spanish (Nieto & Bode, 2012). Such programs promote student academic achievement, the positive assets of multicultural language and culture, and increased parental involvement, value and respect (Collier & Thomas, 2004).
Myth 6: The distinct learning needs of Latina/o students from immigrant families are evidence of deficits that require special education instruction.
Extensive research verifies the disproportional special education placements of students of color whose learning needs are misunderstood and categorized as meeting the criteria of high incidence disabilities, that is, cognitive disabilities and behavioral disruption (e.g., Artiles & Bal, 2008: Klingner, Boardman, Eppolito & Schonewise, 2012; Peña, Gillam, Bedore, & Bohman, 2011; Sullivan, 2011). Academic assessments are misapplied when referrals for evaluation processes do not include appropriate cultural protocols when evaluating learning performance and responsive strategies needed for instruction. The mythologies become the rationale and/or misapplication used to frame educational policy. This increases the likelihood of middle class white norms as the culture of the school setting and individual teachers’ perspective. This limits the understanding needed for all students’ learning and language needs. What then is perpetuated is a worldview that can mislabel documented or undocumented Latinas/os as having high incidence disabilities rather than promoting an understanding of the distinct cultural, linguistic, and social complexities which typify all students’ development and educational performance (O’Conner & DeLuca Fernando, 2007; Klingner et al., 2005).
Myth 7: Students who are undocumented are at risk and drop out because they are not interested in an education and they would rather seek a free ride on welfare.
The result of student failure is often defined as the “individual student problem” instead of first acknowledging the problematic accountability system that fails to consider inequitable conditions for educating and responsively teaching, particularly if the mythology previously presented (Myth 5) is instituted as complexities of racial, social and economic contexts (Barron, 2011; Nieto &Bode, 2012; Rios, 2009; Urrieta, 2004). A climate of fear for Latina/o youth is exacerbated by laws in some states when teachers and schools must engage in conduct that further deters students from feeling welcomed into their community’s school. For example, when the anti-immigration law was instituted in Alabama, one principal describes the following:
“Many of the 223 Hispanic students at Foley (Ala.) Elementary came to school Thursday crying and afraid,” said Principal Bill Lawrence. “Nineteen of them withdrew, and another 39 were absent,” Lawrence said, the day after a federal judge upheld much of Alabama’s strict new immigration law, which authorizes law enforcement to detain people suspected of not being U.S. citizens and requires schools to ask new enrollees for a copy of their birth certificate. “Even more of the students—who are U.S. citizens by birth, but their parents may not be—were expected to leave the state over the weekend”, Lawrence said. “It’s been a challenging day, an emotional day. My children have been in tears today. They’re afraid,” he said. “We have been in crisis-management mode, trying to help our children get over this.” (Price, 2011, October 4).
A survival strategy of invisibility and dropping out becomes necessary for those students who are citizens but whose parents are undocumented.
An unwelcoming sense of displacement is further perpetuated when students’ rich cultural legacies, knowledge, and their experiences and contributions that shaped our nation’s history is invisible and unaddressed in education curricula (Delgado, 2001; Hill-Collins, 2003; Hughes, 2010; Paris, 2012; Stanley, 2007; Siek, 2012; Valenzuela, 2004; Perez Huber, 2009). When viewing the idea of Latina/o students seeking a handout as an intentional plan in light of unwelcoming conditions, the mythological rationale becomes an even more short-sighted and oppressive ideology that is countered.
Resistance comes from the desire to advance educationally. Students utilize skills such as community cultural wealth to achieve academically. Community cultural wealth may be defined as aspirational, linguistic, navigational, social, familial, and resistant capital (Yosso, 2005; Perez Huber, 2009). Such capital is learned in their families and communities through expanded forms; strategies; and skills to survive, resist, and navigate educational experiences, especially as they counter racism (Perez Huber, 2009). Many undocumented students graduate high school, apply, attend, and graduate from institutions of higher education in spite of limited access and high tuition (Perez Huber, 2009; Medina Burton, 2012; Delgado Bernal et al., 2008).
The aforementioned myth provides details about how students are resisting and constructing ways so they may excel in unwelcoming sociocultural and sociopolitical systems.
The public policies that drive anti-immigrant sentiment are politically driven and financially motivated (Barron, 2011; Becerra et al., 2012; Feasley, 2011; Hinojosa-Ojeda, 2012; Motomura, 2012). Immigrants have historically been scapegoats for this country’s problems, and the media clearly demonstrates that politicians find it convenient, in an effort to obtain votes, to portray myths as facts in order to feed and tap into the fears of the public towards immigrants.
Access to a public education through high school is legally upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court (Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 1982). In fact, educational funds cannot be withheld by a state for immigrant youth labeled as “illegal.” This is emphatically established that under the Fourteenth Amendment these students are “deserving of equal protection rights” and equal access to public education (Olivas, 2010). Although students’ rights to education are legally protected, the challenges for educational access remain given the significant economic and educational barriers these youth and young adults face (Becerra et al., 2012; Passel et al., 2004).
In some states, (e.g., Alabama HB 56, titled the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act), the implications for teachers and public schools are that they are required to ask for documentation of parents and subsequently their children in order to have access to an education. Teachers are caught in the middle of the immigration debate if they are forced to deny immigrant students’ accessibility to a free and appropriate education (Delgado, 2001; Hill-Collins, 2003; Hughes, 2010; Matsuda 1995; McCann &Kim, 2003; McLaren, 2007; Paris, 2012). How do schools and teachers care and teach their immigrant students when their state laws are passed to legally mandate what is represented by the assertion of a chief sponsor of Alabama’s immigration law (Act No. 2011-535, the Alabama HB 56, signed into law on June 9, 2011. The intention is to make immigrant life so difficult that they will deport themselves (Campbell & Preston, 2012). Already established is a precedent of civil rights policies in effect that do not focus on removing immigrant students from the society and instead advocate for the education of immigrant P-12 students and protect their right to a free and appropriate education.
Section 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 set a precedent to ensure schools must provide support services to limited-English proficient (LEP) and non-English-proficient (NEP) students. In 1974, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act was used in due process to challenge a school’s discrimination against a student in the case Lau v. Nichol (414 U.S. 563). Educational discrimination based on someone’s national origin was banned. The rights of undocumented immigrant students is more specifically defined under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which specifies that “undocumented children and young adults have the same right to attend public primary and secondary schools as do U.S. citizens and permanent residents” (Immigration Student’s Rights, Ed.). Immigrant students, according to the Fourteenth Amendment, have a right to be enrolled in school without providing proof of legal status in a community and state laws obligate undocumented students to attend elementary and secondary school until they reach a mandated age.
Teachers with a base of educational strategies for non- or limited-English speaking immigrant students promote oral skills and cognitive academic achievement (Lucas, Villegas, & Feedson-Gonzalez, 2008; Valdes, Bunch, Snow, Lee, & Matos, 2005).
Teachers who are engaged in multicultural teaching and learning recognize their students without the lens of the mythology and feel obligated to teach all children to meet their full learning potential. According to Villegas & Lucas (2007), it is vitally important to engage immigrant students by believing they are capable learners. Furthermore, they promote the following salient qualities of successful teaching of students from immigrant and linguistically diverse backgrounds by involving a mindset of understanding the role of culture and language in learning.
1. Understand how learners construct knowledge: Solid learning involves questioning, interpreting, and analyzing ideas in the context of meaningful issues for the student.
2. Learn about students’ lives: “Teachers need to know something about their students’ family makeup, immigration history, favorite activities, concerns, and strengths. Teachers should also be aware of their students’ perceptions of the value of school knowledge, their experiences with the different subject matters in their everyday settings, and their prior knowledge of and experience with specific topics in the curriculum” (p. 30).
3. Understand sociocultural consciousness: To promote reflectively, teachers must be aware of such intersections of race, ethnicity, gender and social class; “To develop sociocultural consciousness, teachers need to look beyond individual students and families to understand inequities in society. In all social systems, some positions are accorded greater status than others, and such status differentiation gives rise to differential access to power. Teachers need to be aware of the role that schools play in both perpetuating and challenging those inequities.” (p. 31).
4. Hold affirming views about diversity: Teachers viewing their immigrant students with affirming perspectives value their culture and believe they are capable learners, even when these students enter school with ways of thinking, talking, and behaving that differ from the dominant cultural norms. Such teachers utilize rigorous curriculums and go beyond deficit perspectives of low academic expectations. They challenge their students to use higher-order thinking skills.
5. Advocate for all students: “To continue to move toward greater cultural and linguistic responsiveness in schools, teachers must see themselves as part of a community of educators working to make schools more equitable for all students. Teaching is an ethical activity, and teachers have an ethical obligation to help all students learn. To meet this obligation, teachers need to serve as advocates for their students, especially those who have been traditionally marginalized in schools” (p. 32). In addition, a school culture must go beyond status quo low expectations for immigrant students. Schools, teachers, administrators, and communities must examine ways to provide fair and equitable learning utilizing adequate multicultural learning materials, smaller class sizes, experienced certified teachers, and attention toward cultural differences, question and change excessive testing practices, and a curriculum that does not reflect diverse student perspectives.
Furthermore, the Society for Research in Child Development (Garcia & Jensen, 2009) reports that Latinas/os from ages 3 to 8 need more bilingual preschool and early-elementary teachers, and additional Spanish speakers to work as classroom language specialists. “Building Tomorrow’s Workforce: Promoting the Education and Advancement of Latina/o Immigrant Workers in America” (Gershwin, Coxen, Kelley, & Yakimov, 2007) suggests education and training by way of strategic partnerships between industry and community colleges to engage Latina/o immigrants. By connecting the two, we invest in this vital portion of younger U.S. workers, Latina/o immigrants for present and future jobs that will enhance our U.S. economy (Becerra et al, 2012; Capps et al., 2007; Card, 2007, Peri, 2006; Riley, 2008).
When Latina/o students look to their communities and witness and observe some of the following activities they know that they are valued. Involved residents can take steps to move toward changes that will allow Latina/o students to fully benefit from their civil right of an appropriate education and to be more integrated into U.S. society and our economy. Examples are not in order of priority and not limited to the following:
- support passage of overall immigration reform
- advocate for in-state college tuition for undocumented high school graduates
- join a Latina/o advocacy and/or community support group
- volunteer at a local school or non-profit
- organize and/or teach an English/ESL class
- intern or volunteer at an immigration law office
- raise scholarship funds for a Latina/o student to attend a technical school or college
- seek out bilingual community medical providers for the Latina/o community
- join a civic organization or church to advocate for services for the Latina/o community
- collect and distribute donated shoes, sneakers, clothes, school supplies, and dental supplies to the Latina/o community
- have parents assist in the classroom and trained as translators
- obtain a degree in ESL, multicultural education
By demystifying previously stated mythologies in an effort to give voice to and advocate for education and immigration reform, especially through the Dream Act, immigrant students in the United States have a more equitable chance for an education without the fear of deportation (Barron, 2011; Becerra et al., 2012; Feasley, 2011; Hinojosa-Ojeda, 2012; Motomura, 2012). It is a moral and ethical imperative that we create educational experiences for all children that include safe, encouraging, and supportive environments for learning.
A fact-based deconstruction of seven mythologies impacting the learning and successful teaching of Latina/o students in the United States is necessary to reinforce equity in education (Nieto &Bode, 2012; Rios, 2009; Urrieta, 2004; Zamudio, 2009). It is a moral imperative for teachers to recognize the immigrant student plight in states highly politicizing and criminalizing immigration (Bailey &Hayes, 2006; Butcher &Piehl, 2007; Rumbaut &Ewing, 2007). Many of these students bring a community cultural wealth, recognizing their resiliency and desire to advance educationally (Johnson, 2013; Perez Huber, 2009). Through education we build human, social, intellectual and economic capital. Broader knowledge of the civic implications of changing immigration laws and inequitable access to education promotes the investment ingenuity and human capital of various immigrant peoples of multiple cultures, races, and ethnicities who are invested in the civic and democratic advancement of principles that improve the quality of life for not only their families, communities, and new country but all people in a multicultural society learning together.
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About the Authors
James Martinez, Ph. D. is a tenure-track, Assistant Professor of education at Valdosta State University. James was a teacher and coach for over 15 years in rural, inner-city and urban profile public schools. His research and teaching interests are education innovation, immigration reform, racial/ethnic inequality, youth gang risk factors, critical pedagogy, critical race theory, and differentiated multicultural education instruction.
Ann Unterreiner Ph.D. is a Research Associate, at Stanford Center for Assessment Equity and Learning, Stanford University, Stanford, California.
Antonette Aragon is an Associate Professor with a focus in Critical Multicultural Foundations of Education and Critical Perspectives of Diversity. Her research extends to the areas of Social Justice in Education and Latino/a and Students of Color in Education. She teaches at Colorado State University.
Phillip Kellerman is the President of the Gainesville-based Harvest of Hope. He has worked as a migrant advocate for 23 years.
This piece was reprinted by EmpathyEducates with the kind permission of the Authors, By James Martinez, Ph.D., Ann Unterreiner, Ph.D., Antonette Aragon, Ph.D., and Phillip Kellerman. We wish to extend a special note of gratitude to James Martinez, Ph. D. and to de Gruyter. Without you immigration myths would live too largely in our conversations.