Federal law in the U.S. requires that all children on American soil receive a free public education. Emphasis on the “all.” The law makes no distinction between children regardless of their immigration status. Despite certain claims made by anti-immigration pundits, it is not possible to “steal an education” here.
Education is even a right for all in the detention camps currently holding migrant children who either arrived alone or have been separated from asylum-seeking parents. In the largest migrant youth camp, a former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, that houses 1,500 boys between 10 and 17, the classrooms were shown off in an official tour in June. The classrooms there looked normal, if with a heavy emphasis on American civics and government (ironically, a subject often neglected in typical U.S. schools).
But elsewhere, things are a little more improvised. For instance, in Berks County Residential Center, there are only two classrooms. One teaches children from ages 2 to 11, the other from 12 to 18. Anyone who has ever met children could tell you those are arbitrary and largely useless age ranges. A toddler and an 11-year-old cannot be taught the same lessons. A 12-year-old and an 18-year-old possibly could be, but one will be stressed and the other bored.
Eleanor Acer of nonprofit organization Human Rights First has toured Berks several times. She told the Times that what passed for education was having the children fill out handouts, overseen by teachers who couldn’t communicate in Spanish or teach English as a second language, and classes made no accommodation for migrant children who had recently arrived or been present for more than a month, simply cycling through a two-week lesson plan.
“The impression is that they are not really taught much of anything,” Acer told the New York Times.
ICE Spokesman Adrian Smith said that the teachers at Berks are either certified in teaching English as a second language or are in the process of working toward their TESL certification.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) insists that migrant students are provided with “quality and age-appropriate care and a speedy and safe release to a suitable sponsor,” but would not comment on their education services when contacted by the Times.
Bob Carey, former director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement under President Barack Obama, weighed in on the education issue, too. “If you’re a social worker or educator, you have professional ethical standards. Now you’re party to a process, seeing children traumatized by your own government.”
Regardless of your beliefs around the separation of children from their parents at the border, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that these migrant children have just as much of a right to a free public education as children born on American soil. Not only that, but it is in the government’s best interest to provide these kids with an adequate education, including the teaching of English as a second language. After all, these kids might someday become American citizens, and it will help them to find work and improve their lives if they’ve been provided with a healthy curriculum taught by qualified instructors.