Federal guidelines aim to support illegal alien students

The Department of Education released guidelines for high school and college educators this week outlining strategies to help them be welcoming and sensitive toward undocumented students.

The DOE’s “Supporting Undocumented Youth” resource guide begins by noting that 80,000 illegal immigrants turn 18 each year in the U.S.—roughly 65,000 of whom graduate from high school—and that both federal law and Supreme Court precedent require that public education be open to all, regardless of immigration status.

“Undocumented youth, in particular, can experience high levels of acculturative stress from immigration-related issues such as separation from family and academic difficulties,” the document asserts. “Besides the challenges related to immigration status, many undocumented youth are from low-income families and lack access to critical social services.”

Implicitly placing the responsibility for ameliorating those challenges on educators, the resource guide offers a list of advice for teachers at both the high school and college level, broken down into five categories including “create open and welcoming environments,” “communicate and demonstrate support for undocumented youth,” and “provide resources and services to help guide undocumented students.”

The DOE acknowledges that the resource guide is not binding in any way, but claims that “the resources and tips in this Guide … may help educators, counselors, and others support student academic and social success, and to work collaboratively with youth and their families to find creative ways to finance college costs.”

The first category of tips encourages teachers to “create open and welcoming environments” so as to “make their support of undocumented students clear and help alleviate fears about students’ status.” Among the examples listed in this category are hosting an illegal immigrant awareness day (or better yet, an entire “Undocumented Week”), ideally with significant input from students, and publicly demonstrating support for undocumented students.

The resource guide also includes examples of services and resources educators can provide for undocumented students, such as “a safe place for undocumented students to connect and receive staff and peer support,” a dedicated page on the school’s website with information about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and “an undocumented student resource guide or brochure to help these students navigate the new institution and feel welcomed.”

More broadly, the DOE also encourages institutions of higher education to make public declarations of support for “undocumented students and their rights to a high-quality education,” contending that, “by taking a public stand, IHEs can help to inspire more undocumented youth to pursue postsecondary education and to promote positive change that will increase college access for these youth.”

Beyond simply issuing a public statement to that effect, the document also asks schools to “showcase” the stories of undocumented students “in any media outreach campaigns and press releases” (apparently regardless of the underlying topic), and explore strategies for employing the institution’s influence against “exclusionary or less inclusive” state policies.

“Educators, counselors, and principals often serve as informal and trusted advisors to students and families, and thus are uniquely positioned to share critical information and resources for undocumented youth, including those requesting or renewing DACA,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in an accompanying letter to state education officials. “I’m writing today … to encourage you to explore the resources enclosed in this Resource Guide, which may help you to better serve and support undocumented youth.”

Duncan also notes, though, that because “high-quality early learning and elementary education is critical to college and career success for all children,” the DOE plans to release a separate resource guide for educators at those lower levels “in coming months.”

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