Young minds feel the strain of families broken apart.
The teachers and administrators interviewed for this article requested all names be changed to avoid risking having their undocumented students being targeted.
As a provider to our community’s most vulnerable populations, Impact NW responds to children and families in need. Recently, our staff and volunteers have been finding ways to respond and support children directly affected by the national uncertainties surrounding the topic of immigration. To protect the privacy of the affected students, all names have been changed.
Immigrant families where one or more members are undocumented are fearful after the presidential election. “We basically went into crisis mode,” said Beryl, a local school administrator whose student population, one of many diverse communities that Impact NW serves, consists of many immigrant families.
Uncertainty for immigrant families
President Trump has promised policy changes, at times claiming he would deport as many as 3 million people. And with his promises wavering – deporting immigrants with protected statuses or offering exceptions to them, those affected risk the uncertainty of not knowing if or when their families will be broken apart. Over 8% of K-12 students in Oregon have a parent at risk of deportation, and because many of these children are US citizens, they might have to remain in the United States if their parent is deported.
As family members are forced to go underground to avoid deportation, their children begin to wonder who they can trust. “You see kids kind of feeling lost,” Kerry, a local school teacher, said. “Like, I don’t know who’s my ally, I don’t know who’s going to support my identity as a Hispanic or a Latinx person, and if they’re going to support me or my family.”
“I always tell them, you are safe here.”
Local schools, some in partnership with Impact NW, reach out to children and their families to offer sanctuary and support. Yvonne, a school secretary, interacts one on one with the kids. “I always tell them, you are safe here. I’m not going to let anyone through the door who would hurt you.” Beryl ensured her school made a statement to all their students that the school was a safe place. Kerry emphasizes teaching her students about Mexican and South American musicians as a way to support their Hispanic and Latinx identities. That “has been really profound. It was a huge victory for their identity.”
Beryl also brought the students together to talk about their fears after the election. Young children don’t need to understand immigration politics to pick up on their parents’ stress and fear. “Their grades have gone down,” the mothers told me, and their teachers have noticed a difference too. Kerry reports that since the election “kids are more combative, less engaged…[I’m] seeing kids not sleeping, for months… they become unstable and agitated.”
Providing the tools needed to succeed, even in the face of fear & oppression
Security is still a long ways off for these local families. In the face of decisions made at the top levels of government, there isn’t much for individuals to do to protect themselves or their loved ones. And for the families affected, it feels like they are forgotten. Often times, documented citizens don’t pay much attention to the lives of undocumented families, and some companies are slow to take a full stand on behalf of their immigrant families. Beryl explains, “When institutions don’t respond to these things in a transparent and visible way, then it’s hard for a population to feel supported and safe.”
Impact NW stands by our undocumented clients. We foster a supportive community within our SUN and SHINE schools and facilitate workshops to educate families on their rights. Our programs are designed to support children and families, evolving along with the community to provide the tools needed to succeed, even in the face of fear and oppression.
Story by Sagan Wallace