Brief explores the immigration system’s impact on school communities

As of 2019, roughly 7 percent of all children in the United States — an estimated 5 million young people under age 19 — lived with an undocumented family member, most often a parent.

The effects of immigration enforcement actions on Latino children of undocumented immigrants are explored in the policy brief “The Impact of a Broken Immigration System on U.S. Students and Schools,” published by the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools in December in collaboration with the Latino Policy and Politics Institute and the Civil Rights Project.

“The heightened tension around anti-immigration legislation and sentiment in the country hurts not only these children, but their friends, peers, teachers, and schools, ultimately hurting our entire public school system,” according to the brief.

The brief covers key findings from the book “Schools Under Siege: The Impact of Immigration Enforcement on Educational Equity,” which draws upon data from a 2017–18 national survey of more than 3,600 educators spanning 13 states.

The negative consequences of immigration enforcement on students’ academic outcomes are abundant — even for those who do not have immigrant family members, the survey found.

Impact on students and schools

Increased immigrant enforcement impacted students’ academic performance, 60 percent of teachers surveyed reported as students were worried about their family’s safety and situation in the U.S. rather than academics and post-high school plans.

It can also result in attendance issues. “Educators shared how their students are frightened and sometimes remain absent from school for days when there are immigration raids in the area or fear that their parents will be deported or detained while they are at school,” the brief states.

“I had one student who came back the day after prom and would not eat or talk to anyone. I finally found out from one of her friends that she came home from prom to find her mom deported and never had the chance to say goodbye or anything,” one California teacher who participated in the survey recalled. “She was suffering but did not know what to do.”

Increased immigration enforcement also raised the probability of having to repeat a grade for those ages 6-13 and the likelihood of dropping out for 14- to 17-year-olds.

More arrests and immigration enforcement also correlate with a decline in English language arts for English learners at the secondary level as well as a declines in math for all Latino students at the secondary level.

School climate can also be impacted.

“Almost half of the educators surveyed reported an increase in bullying of immigrant students, creating a heightened sense of insecurity and anxiety in students,” according to the brief. “If a student arrived at school crying or disappeared for days due to an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) action, other students in the same classroom would show concern for their peers, which affects school climate.”

Effects on parents and educators are also detailed in the brief.

Policy recommendations

The brief outlines measures that school systems can implement to support immigrant students and their families. Suggestions include:

  • Urging Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform
  • Community schools investments
  • Engaging community members who can establish trusting relationships with undocumented parents
  • Establishing partnerships with community-based organizations that specialize in providing support services to immigrant families
  • Uplifting support and care for teachers by hiring more counselors and support staff, implementing strategies to improve diversity in the profession and offering professional development
  • Offering “Know Your Rights” guidance