Whether it’s family, safety, health, or financial security, migrants have unique reasons for making the journey from Latin America to the United States. When they arrive, they face a multitude of challenges, from language barriers to understanding and adapting to a new culture. These obstacles are particularly magnified for young people who arrive in the U.S. and immediately enter the American school system.
As the start of the semester approaches, it’s crucial to recognize that the daily news, policy changes, and current social events are profoundly impacting the future of college students. Every day presents new obstacles as well as opportunities for educators to help students navigate the classroom and manage their responsibilities.
There are small changes we as educators can make to best address the needs of our students and ensure that our classrooms are equipped for long-term success. In my experience, it all starts with empathy; understanding where students are coming from, the policies are affecting their lives, and the household structures informing their experiences. Taking the time to understand these unique circumstances can be a simple way to support students in overcoming hardships they may be experiencing on campus.
To help support Latinx students, I’ve compiled a brief list of 10 important terms and policies to know:
- DREAM ACT (The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors): A U.S. legislative proposal that would provide a path to legal status for qualifying high school graduates who attend college or serve in the military. First introduced in 2001, it never passed despite multiple legislative attempts.
- UNACCOMPANIED MINORS: Undocumented children who enter the U.S. without a guardian.
- MIXED STATUS FAMILIES: Families with at least one undocumented family member and at least one member who is a U.S. citizen (over one-third of U.S. households with an undocumented person are mixed families).
- SANCTUARY SCHOOLS & CAMPUSES: Educational institutions that adopt policies to protect students who are undocumented.
- UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS: people who enter the United States without immigration clearance.
- PLYLER V. DOE: a Supreme Court decision that guarantees undocumented students free access to K-12 education.
- DEFERRED ACTION FOR CHILDHOOD ARRIVALS (DACA): an initiative created by President Barack Obama in 2012 through executive action that provides two-year deportation relief and work eligibility for qualifying youth who came to the U.S. as children.
- AB 540 (2001): allows qualifying nonresident students to pay in-state tuition at public universities.
- The CALIFORNIA DREAM ACT (2011) allows AB 540 students to also apply for state funded aid, known as Cal Grants, and non-state funded scholarships.
- IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT (ICE): The bureau within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that enforces immigration laws and conducts the apprehension, detention and deportation of immigrants. ICE used to be part of what was known previously as the INS or Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The above list is by no means exhaustive, and scrapes the surface of understanding what our Latinx students are experiencing day-to-day. And for educators without a Latinx background, it can be difficult and even overwhelming to begin understanding where students are coming from. However, by demonstrating familiarity with important terms and educating ourselves about the larger implications of policies, cultural movements, and terminology, we can take steps in the right direction toward fully showing up for our Latinx students.
As a Mexican-American humanitarian photographer and collegiate speaker, I’ve made it my mission to document and tell the stories of the migrants who embark on the journey to the United States. I’ve spent the past ten years documenting their journeys across Latin America, walking alongside hundreds of migrants, and capturing their stories through photography. Utilizing photography and storytelling, I now travel to colleges nationwide to inform and inspire students toward empathy and understanding about the migrant experience.
Research provided by the Education Trust-West Migration Policy Institute. For additional information, including links to resources and organizations supporting undocumented students and their families, check out www.edtrustwest.org