My country is deporting my student. He tried to do the right thing. He filed for asylum when he arrived as an unaccompanied minor, but his case has been rejected.
Now he faces a future in Guatemala without friends or close family or any of the usual supports a high school senior would hope to have.
Today I stood in our gym at Scott County High School for the Thanksgiving assembly. I placed my hand on my heart for the national anthem, cried a bit with the moving choral music, and celebrated our students who worked so hard to collect over 30,000 pounds of food for our community food bank. Looking at what we can provide, I wondered why we couldn’t reach out to just one more young person.
I could be less passionate if I didn’t know this young man. He has immersed himself in school and made friends who helped him learn English. His writing and speech are sprinkled with evidence of his deep religious faith. My student does every assignment in AP Spanish and gently encourages his non-native speaking classmates. He plays on the high school soccer team, but he turns down offers for weekend school activities to go to church.
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So why deport him?
He has no criminal record and hasn’t so much as had detention at school. Isn’t he the kind of person we want in our country? I sure do.
Before my student found out that his case was being denied, our AP Spanish students started a unit on immigration, including questions about alienation and assimilation. What can cause feelings of alienation? How can individuals and communities help immigrants assimilate into American culture? What do immigrants contribute to our country? We’re reading a memoir by Francisco Jiménez called “Cajas de carton” about his emigrating from Mexico as a child migrant laborer to California in the 1940s.
Although my students don’t yet know this, in the final paragraphs Jiménez tells of officers from the Immigration and Naturalization Service arriving at the door of his eighth-grade classroom. The teacher sadly points out Jiménez himself as the one to be deported.
I pray that I’m never put in that position for my own students. I hope I would have the courage to resist.
Jiménez eventually was allowed to return to the U.S. legally and even became a professor. Maybe that will happen for some, but my student will be prohibited from returning for 10 years.
I want everyone reading this to know that many of the undocumented immigrants in our schools are exactly the kind of people who built our country in previous generations, who led to its greatness. They bring energy, drive, creative ideas and open minds to our communities. I want these young people in my town.
Students who do their schoolwork, follow the laws, and contribute to their communities should earn the opportunity to become citizens. We also need to assure, through our public schools and communities, that immigrants have opportunities to acculturate and aren’t relegated to a permanent underclass of frightened, uneducated laborers.
I didn’t come into education thinking of teaching as a political act, but now I do. My responsibilities extend beyond imparting knowledge to assuring that my students have access to the best in our society. It’s my job to advocate for my students. I will, and I vote.
Ann Marie Stevens is a National Board Certified Teacher who teaches Spanish at Scott County High School in Georgetown.