Academic journal article Language Arts

Dignifying Every Day: Policies and Practices That Impact Immigrant Students

Academic journal article Language Arts

Dignifying Every Day: Policies and Practices That Impact Immigrant Students

Article excerpt

Many of us in education believe in the importance of modeling and reinforc- ing acts of empathy, kindness, under- standing, and respect. Schools are not just places of academic learning, but also spaces where we shape children's notions of fair and democratic treatment. In essence, the potential exists for the classroom to be revered for the dignified manner in which all actors treat each other every day.

Too often, however, immigrant students are not afforded that dignity in their schools. It may be that their classmates or teachers misunderstand (or intentionally demean) their languages, cultures, or belief systems. In fact, classrooms sometimes become the least dignifying spaces for immigrant children because they "mirror" the larger society (Doucet & Suárez-Orozco, 2006; Taylor, 1994), and today in our country-and in many other parts of the world-i t is not always safe to be a person of color whose family origins are not local. Xeno- phobic legislation has codified, and in many ways granted, a certain level of societal permission to attack immigrants.

In this issue's Research and Policy column, I offer readers an overview of the many policies and practices with which immigrant students and their families must contend on a daily basis. I also describe some circumstances that are common in immigrant households. Federal and state-mandated policies affect such things as immigrant students' right to attend public schools, the language instruc- tion they will receive in school, the composition of their family household, and the opportunity to attend college-t o name a few. There are also district-imposed and teacher-imposed practices that determine immigrant students' use of home languages in the classroom, their role in parent- teacher conferences, and the participation of their (undocumented) parents in school events. While these lists are not exhaustive, we can surely appre- ciate the myriad ways in which immigrant students are "governed."

Migration as a human right

Often, those of us who live "protected" middle class lives in a developed country and as natural cit- izens of a nation-state do not realize the tremendous amount of human movement that exists worldwide. Current world migration figures are the highest they have ever been in history; in 2010 alone, the number of migrants around the globe was estimated to be 214 million (International Organization for Migra- tion [IOM], 2010). The emergence of transnational migration has been propelled by not only acts of displacement (such as war, natural disasters, or the effects of questionable economic policies), but also by advancements in communication technologies and transportation. IOM describes such migration as one where "geographic space" and "migration space" have shrunk, so much so that nation-states no longer see membership as territory-based. Instead, a new kind of "people-state" relationship is taking root-a change that is likely to influence the future course of human mobility significantly.

That said, it is still important to note that this incredible amount of movement is often entangled in difficult and unauthorized journeys from one country to another. In comparison to the mobility given to corporations and investors to move capi- tal to emerging opportunities worldwide (as well as their products and goods), the same flexibility or ease is rarely granted to persons when they detect better opportunities. In this case, there remains an inflexibility of national borders. If more coun- tries were to consider a human rights approach to migration, like Argentina (Hines, 2010), then international policies and practices would place the migrant at the center of migration policies and management; this framework would also pay close attention to the situation of marginalized and dis- advantaged groups of migrants who are the most vulnerable under globalization (Office of the High Commissioner of the Human Rights, 2013). Such an approach would ensure that immigrants are con- sidered and included in relevant national policies and action plans from the outset, instead of seeing newly arrived migrants as "problems" in US com- munities and schools. …

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