The Current Situation
We all know that the recent immigration crackdown, already strong under the Obama Administration, has intensified under the Trump administration. In the news, we hear of family separations, child detention camps, and troops awaiting caravans of refugees at the border to keep them out. It's hard to know what to do to help our students.
We know that his crackdown is generating widespread fear within immigrant communities and ESOL programs in Oregon are being directly impacted. However, there is a growing network of informed, engaged, and connected ESOL professionals and volunteers in our state who contribute significantly to the safety and well-being of immigrant communities and of our student base. Collaboration and action to mitigate this difficult situation are needed within our field. You can join us!
Five Steps We Can Take Now
Here are five specific actions that you, as an ESOL professional, and your program or institution can take to protect our vulnerable immigrant and refugee communities:
1. Encourage your institution to publicly declare itself a “Safe Haven” or “Sanctuary” site. Such a resolution lays out the institution’s policies on its handling of personal student data and how school personnel will respond to ICE agents. This will help allay student fears about ICE’s presence (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) on or near school grounds. Publicize this status on campus in multiple languages. See a link to Portland Community College’s public statement in the resource list to use as a model.
2. Organize “Know Your Rights” workshops (KYR). Anyone residing in the US, not just citizens, is protected by the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments to the constitution. It is essential for our students to understand what their rights are in the current climate. KYR content is relevant to civics and citizenship instruction and in most courses, this material can be integrated while staying within curriculum requirements. If workshops can be scheduled during class time, they will be more effective in reaching a greater number of students. Offer printed “Know Your Rights” handouts & wallet cards in locations where students and their families can easily take them. Make curricular materials that include KYR content available to teaching staff so that they can integrate it into classroom instruction. See “Resources” at the end for the names of local organizations that provide KYR trainers and for links to online curricula and materials.
3. Collaborate with community organizations that serve and advocate for immigrant and refugee populations. Community groups often have direct experience with and knowledge of the reality that students and their families face. They can serve as informants to ESL programs and may also be able to extend their services through school networks. Collaboration with these organizations will provide a multi-faceted approach, offering the most safety and support for those at risk. See “Resources” for contact information for local and national organizations.
4. Establish a safe environment inside the classroom and on campus. Provide professional development to staff and instructors on legal issues related to immigration, the school’s responsibilities, referrals and how to enhance emotional safety. For example, staff needs to know that they cannot provide legal advice (immigration attorneys must do that), that immigration status should generally not be requested nor recorded. They should also familiarize themselves with students’ constitutional rights and employ strategies for creating emotional safety.
5. Provide financial aid information for undocumented & DACA students (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). These students are not eligible for federal financial aid to attend college. However, there are scholarships and aid available in Oregon through the “Office of Student Access & Completion”. See https://oregonstudentaid.gov
In order to carry out these five steps, please click here to get a PDF with more resources like materials for a KYR workshop.
Thank you for your interest in this issue!
Kathleen Holloway – ESL Instructor, Clackamas Community College
I got my start in ESL as a volunteer when the wave of refugees from SE Asia arrived. Since then, I have worked with students from every corner of the world as an instructor and volunteer coordinator.