Homelessness among children, including those infoster or institutional care and those who are immigrants and refugees, is one of the five forces likely to affect adversely the lives of young people during the 1990s (Scales 1991). The challenges and needs of homeless families are well documented in the literature (National Coalition for the Homeless 1989; First 1998; González 1992). Similarly, the demographic changes resulting from immigration policies have brought substantial attention to the growth of the immigrant population and its implications for our economy and schools. An immigrant is traditionally defined as a person admitted as a permanent resident of the United States (Vialet 1996). However, this term refers to undocumented individuals as well as those legally admitted to the United States. The issues surrounding homelessness among the undocumented immigrant population have not been addressed in the literature. Yet, this group of homeless individuals faces even more severe and complex circumstances in the struggle to survive than do homeless individuals who are U.S. citizens. This chapter addresses those issues faced by homeless undocumented immigrants in a Southwest border community with a large influx of immigration from Mexico. We begin by providing a historical perspective of Mexican migration to the United States and describing the diverse situations of homelessness that undocumented immigrants experience. The chapter will then discuss the social and educational problems of undocumented homeless children. A case study that which illustrates the problems will be presented next, followed by a description of how the schools can function as safe havens for undocumented youth and their families.
The National Research Council (1997) estimates that between 1,000,000 and 1,100,000 immigrants, both legal and illegal, enter the United States every year. The majority of these immigrants live in six states: California, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, and Illinois. Assuming that immigration continues at its present level, the U.S. population will grow to 387 million people by the year 2050, and immigration will account for two-thirds of that growth. Immigrants of Hispanic ancestry will grow from the current 27 million to 85 million by 2050, and will account for 26 percent of the U.S. population.