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Children at the border


July 22, 2019

As educators, we know that forcibly displaced children, even in the best of circumstances, will carry challenges with them for life. Languishing in makeshift camps in Mexico or surviving nearly a month of detention in Border Patrol cages, and sometimes for many more months in federal shelters, only compounds the trauma that displaced these kids in first place.

We also know that schooling can cultivate resilience and is crucial for the future prospects of migrant and refugee children. But there is little sign that children’s futures matter at all on our southern border.

Under US law, children can’t be held by Customs and Border Protection for long periods. They must be remanded to the Department of Health and Human Services and released to a family sponsor, licensed foster car or placed in adequate shelters, though,//added this comma// as in the border detention centers, there have been widespread allegations of abuse and mistreatment in HHS facilities.

The law also requires that detained children be individually assessed and assigned an education plan. The Trump administration has made it clear that it has little respect for that provision. In early June, Health and Human Services notified its border shelters that it would no longer reimburse them for teachers’ pay, costs for legal services or recreational equipment. There is no guarantee that additional “crisis” funding provided by Congress will change its priorities.

In 2007, we helped open Oakland International High School, designed for newly arrived immigrant youth in California. Of the 400 students who are currently enrolled, more than 130 have been in detention at the hands of the government’s immigration apparatus, some for several months, some after being separated from their parents. All of our students have significant obstacles to overcome as they transition to new lives and homes in the US, but we’ve seen in particular the toll that prolonged and inhumane detention takes on their ability to build trust, to make healthy decisions and to forge positive relationships.

A 2018 meta study, conducted by British researchers, shows the impact of detention on children: 65% to 100% of children surveyed had some level of chronic sleep issues, more than 87% had a major depressive disorder, and more than 50% confided suicidal ideation. Although formerly detained children make up a third of the current student body at Oakland International, they make up more than 60% of the school’s urgent mental health referrals. “Sometimes, when we’re in class, we’re distracted or not able to focus,” a Salvadoran student who had made a perilous journey to the US and had spent more than a month in detention told us.

Each day a child spends in border detention or in shelters – especially in facilities that lack educational opportunities, not to mention basic care – is a criminal waste for society as well as the children. Students who fall behind due to interrupted education and trauma are more likely to drop out altogether, to develop chronic health conditions and even to end up in prison. And the deeper the trauma and educational gaps the more resource-intensive a child’s schooling – in terms of teacher time, curriculum and general expenditures.

In the US, we must keep our attention focused on what is happening at the border with Mexico, to pressure Congress and the White House to remedy what is an administration-created human rights crisis. But our border catastrophe has echoes around the globe, with record numbers of displaced men, women and children the world over. The United Nations estimates that nearly 31 million children are forcibly displaced, which amounts to a worldwide generation at risk of severely curtailed opportunities and truncated futures.

Excerpted from: 'Get Children Out of Cages at the Border and Into School'.