nation of immigrants

Could fear of Trump’s immigration policies keep New York City students out of school?

A student in an after-school program run by the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, where Helena Yordan works, drew and wrote about his fear of Trump.

After the election, a student in Helena Yordan’s Bronx after-school program handed her a drawing with an image of an immigration agent arresting a woman.

The caption read, “Donald Trump, why do you deport our parents? You don’t recognize how scared kids are.”

That student is still attending the program, but Yordan said she’s worried about keeping other students in school and after-school as anxiety consumes many immigrant families.

This child’s mother, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador who did not provide her name, said some Hispanic parents were afraid to visit the school and one of her friends was considering pulling her child out altogether.

While the mother we spoke with has no plans to keep her children home, she understands the impulse.

“I had the same fears,” she said. “I sometimes felt very insecure to go out in the street. I had nightmares.”

Those fears are reflected across the city. As the federal government ratchets up immigration enforcement — most recently by dramatically expanding the pool of undocumented immigrants who can be deported — families are increasingly hiding behind locked doors. Despite assurances from the city that it will safeguard students, advocates worry that families could leave schools next.

“The big issue is that there is pervasive anxiety across immigrant communities,” said Kim Sykes, who works on education at the New York Immigration Coalition. “They are afraid to do laundry. They are terrified of being separated. This anxiety extends to all areas of life and school is not exempt.”

Sykes recounted one instance in which parents, on their way to drop off a child at a child care center in the Bronx, thought they were being followed by ICE agents. Out of fear, they did not take their child to the center that day. (While some recent reports suggest Trump could be open to immigration reform, Sykes’s organization said it was unconvinced his attitude toward immigrants has changed.)

Roksana Mun, director of strategy and training at DRUM, an organization that helps South Asian immigrants, has heard some of the same concerns as Sykes. In private conversations and phone calls, she said, three separate families have told her they are worried about sending their children to school.

So far in New York City, these are anecdotal stories and fears. The Department of Education said there is no evidence of a widespread drop in attendance citywide or among specific immigrant-heavy communities.

“We want to make sure that parents send those kids to school. The best place to be protected is in your school,” said Chancellor Carmen Fariña at a Tuesday press conference. “We have not seen a dip in attendance and I want that to continue.”

The city sent a letter home to parents in January explaining that schools do not keep records of immigration status and will not allow ICE agents to access school buildings without “proper legal authority.” On Tuesday, she also said the city is drafting a second letter that spells out the protocol if immigrant agents show up at school.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who made immigrant protection central to her recent State of the City speech, said she is looking into whether the city can strengthen its response. Even the rumblings of students avoiding school are troubling to her, she said.

“It may not be happening on a massive scale,” Mark-Viverito said, “but the fact that it’s starting to happen in some cases is a concern for us.”

Recent events seem to justify the parents’ fears. In Virginia and Texas, parents have reportedly been arrested or picked up by ICE agents while dropping their children off at school, according to the Washington Post. In Connecticut, there is anecdotal evidence that families might be keeping their children out of school, according to a spokeswoman for the education department.

And higher education has been impacted in California. The number of undocumented students applying for state financial aid there dropped more than 40 percent compared to last year.

This wouldn’t be the first time fear of immigration enforcement kept students from school.

In Durham, North Carolina, high school attendance dropped 20 percent last year after a student was arrested in an immigration raid. When Alabama enacted a sweeping crackdown on undocumented immigrants in 2011, which initially required schools to collect the immigration status of students, the Department of Justice documented a surge in Hispanic absences.

Some parents’ fears center not on the the safety of school itself, but on the threat of being separated from their children at all, said Ref Rodriguez, a member of the Los Angeles School Board. He started pushing for the L.A. to increase protections for immigrant students after he heard of a family that kept phone numbers on their refrigerator so the children would have someone to call if they came home from school one day and discovered their parents were gone.

“No child should come home and wonder whether or not their mom or dad is going to come home tonight,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve done things so that we can help people feel that that they feel secure and safe.”

Many local advocates want New York City to go further to reassure immigrant families. The fear, they say, is palpable — and widespread.

Darnell Benoit, director of Flanbwayan, a group that helps young Haitian immigrants, said he knows of Haitian parents who are planning to head back to Haiti and leave their minor children in someone else’s custody. Ninaj Raoul, executive director for Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, said she has easily gotten 20 nervous calls a day since the election.

At this point, Benoit said, “anything can happen,” including parents pulling their children out of school. “People are definitely afraid.”

Christina Veiga contributed reporting

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”