Immigrant Youth Detention

The headlines have increasingly focused on undocumented immigrants in the United States. Every day there are new stories, from the conservative and the liberal sector, that describe one issue or another regarding illegal immigration. For example, the news has focused on the new configured rate of illegal immigration (which as of March 10 was reported to be in decline) or a new crime committed by or against an undocumented immigrant. However, only recently have the media focused on immigrant detention centers, and rarely has the press focused on immigrant youth detention centers. Undocumented youth, just like adults, can be detained due to their legal status. While the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency is focused on finding criminal and violent undocumented immigrants, that does not mean that they let everyday undocumented individuals go, and youth are no exception.

Undocumented youth are brought to the attention of ICE officers mainly due to two reasons. The first reason is that immigrant youth are caught trying to cross the border illegally. It has been calculated that in recent years “approximately 8,000 youth are considered ‘unaccompanied alien children’” who tried to enter the United States (Frankel 2011: 64). These youth travel extraordinary lengths to try and find a better life in the United States. The film Which Way Home, produced by HBO, documents the journey of children as they travel to the U.S. The other reason undocumented youth are brought to the attention of ICE is because they are entered into the juvenile justice system without a clear legal status, in which case ICE puts a hold on their forms. It is approximated that “1,000 minors are apprehended each year through internal enforcement efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement” (Frankel 2011: 64).

Once within ICE custody, youth are sent to detention centers or an “ICE-contracted facility—a local city or county jail, a state facility, or a juvenile detention center” (Frankel 2011 74). These facilities, jails, and detention centers, are created for the purpose of rehabilitating incarcerated individuals who were convicted of committing a crime. Undocumented youth who are detained–not because of criminal offenses but because of their legal status–are then sent to these facilities. In “An Analysis of Treatment of Unaccompanied Immigrant and Refuge Children in INS Detention and Other Forms of Institutionalized Custody,” author Lisa Rodriguez Navarro writes that “the INS treats unaccompanied minors like common criminals by handcuffing them during transit and by requiring that they wear jail clothes” (1998: 601). However, unlike incarcerated individuals, undocumented youth who have been detained do not know the duration of their sentences. Youth can spend a couple months to over a year incarcerated (Navarro 1998: 599). Not only are these youth contained in a criminal setting, there is a history of undocumented youth being denied services.

Navarro writes that “these centers, camps and facilities have a history of housing immigrant minors in disgraceful conditions without access to education, health care, legal services, or other basic necessities” (1998: 590). These detention centers do not provide the guaranteed rights to undocumented youth. Even though these youth are not citizens, that does not mean that they should be denied the liberties entitled to them.

Undocumented individuals, especially youth, “have no statutory right to counsel at the governments expense” (Frankel 2011: 66). This means that undocumented youth must be able to pay for a legal representative or find a pro bono attorney, however, most youth appear before court without any representative.

Undocumented youth who have been detained live in unsafe facilities, do no receive access to legal aid, and are often treated like criminals. Media, news sources and academia should focus more on what is happening to detained undocumented youth in the United States.

Works Cited:

Frankel, Elizabeth M. 2011. “Detention and Deportation with Inadequate Due Process: The Devastating Consequences of Juvenile Involvement with Law Enforcement for Immigrant Youth.” Duke Forum for Law & Social Change, 3(63):63-107. Retrieved from

Navarro, Lisa Rodriguez. 1998. “An Analysis of Treatment of Unaccompanied Immigrant and Refuge Children in INS Detention and Other Forms of Institutionalized Custody.” Chicano-Latino Law Review 19:598-612.

ICE Website Represents Immigrants As Criminals

The US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the largest branch within the Department of Homeland Security and, in addition, is responsible for the greatest number of deportations. Considering some of the literature our class has read this semester, it has become clear that ICE, whose website frames its goals as those of protecting our families, our borders, and the nation’s safety, is responsible for breaking apart thousands of families via the deportation of illegal immigrants.

Of the 396,906 immigrants deported last year (2011), 180,208 of them were deported for non-criminal reasons, which is nearly half of all deportations ( 2012).

Despite this large number of non-criminal deportees, ICE represents itself as an organization that “promote[s] homeland security and public safety” ( The ICE homepage has a continuously rotating news ticker, which is constantly updating with news releases regarding the detention and deportation of criminal illegal immigrants. One of the headlines reads “HSI, local law enforcement joint operation nets 6 arrests, seizure of illegal weapons, drugs” ( 2012), offering a link to a news release describing various arrests and seizures. For example, a successful raid is described in which “task force officers seized five additional .40 caliber magazines; 58 rounds of 9 caliber ammunition; an AR15 rifle; 427 rounds of 2.23 caliber ammunition; a 9 caliber, Sig Sauer model P229 pistol; a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver; 52 rounds of 9 caliber ammunition; three .40 caliber and two 9 caliber magazines; and 910 capsules of crack cocaine” (ice.gov2012). Another article reads, “ICE arrests 80 criminal aliens in Georgia, Carolinas” and describes how “Of those arrested, 20 were immigration fugitives, 14 re-entered the United States after a previous deportation and 46 were at-large criminals. The arrested aliens came from Mexico, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. ERO arrested 33 in Georgia, 15 in South Carolina and 32 in North Carolina” ( 2012).

If ICE was really interested in offering a full and complete representation of their deportation activities, they might post a picture of a child left alone in the U.S. whose parents are being deported due to a raid sponsored by ICE. Or, they might post an article about one of the 180,208 non-criminal immigrants who had been working in the United Sates for years and had made this country his home. Perhaps an exposé on how a family’s “separation poses huge economic costs to the family members in the U.S. household, who ironically may become more dependent on the U.S. government for assistance in the absence of the breadwinner ” or an article that focuses upon the tremendous “emotional, financial, and psychological trauma as a result of losing loved ones” (Hagan, Eschbach, and Rodriguez 2008: 84).

Obviously ICE isn’t going to be posting those articles anytime soon. However, what this class has taught me, and what is important for the public to understand, is that despite the stated aims of ICE, good people are being deported, losing loved ones, and being removed from their families. While the face of ICE is an anti-terrorist, anti-criminal organization, ICE is in many ways an organization that disrupts families, causing children (often times legal U.S. citizen children) psychological trauma and economic hardship.

The article “US Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s Well-being: The Impact of Policy Shifts” points out how “recent changes have led to a criminalization of federal immigration policy enforcement” (Androff et al. 2011:80). The way in which ICE chooses to represent itself and the people it detains is indicative of this criminalization, as it presents a much more sinister, and demonizing, depiction of who these deported immigrants are.


Androff, David K., Cecilia Ayon, David Becerra, Maria Gurrola, Lorraine Salas, JudyKrysik, Karen Gerdes, Elizabeth Segal. 2011. “US Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s Well-being: The Impact of Policy Shifts.” Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare XXXVIII(1): 77-98.

Hagan, Jacqueline. 2008. “U.S. Deportation Policy, Family Separation, and Circular Movement.” Internal Migration Review 42(1): 64-88.

ICE 2012. “Home”. Washington DC: Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved            May 11 2012 (

Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Immigrants

President Obama’s recent support of gay marriage is receiving an enormous amount of publicity. Whether you are a supporter of gay marriage or not, it is clear that gay rights will be a hot topic of debate in the upcoming presidential election.

Considering the current hubbub surrounding gay rights, I thought it would be relevant to discuss some of the issues pertaining to migration studies and sexual identity. In an article entitled “Queer Intersections: Sexuality and Gender In Migration Studies,” Martin Manalansan argues that the study of U.S. immigrants has been analyzed through a normative, heterosexual lens. Manalansan writes,

The implication seems to be that the nuclear family is the primary model of the transnational family and that heterosexual marriage or heterosexual partnering are only plausible cornerstones of family life with parenthood gendered in static biological terms and motherhood or maternal love, the province solely of biological (typically married) women with children. (2006: 237)

The issue he is getting at here is that information could be lost or misunderstood due to the fact that we judge immigrant success based on a heterosexual family unit. In Manalansan’s opinion, “a critical notion of sexuality enables a more inclusive and accurate portrait of global… migration” ( 2006: 224). Class, race, and economic status have all been taken into consideration when studying immigration. Why then has sexuality has been left out the discussion.? Manalansan argues that researchers and academics presuppose the heterosexuality of immigrants, as well as a desire to conform to normative heterosexual relationships when in the U.S.

The lack of scholarly research given to this topic is indicative of the lack of rights that homosexual immigrants exercise in the United States. For example, if a heterosexual married couple made up of one immigrant and one U.S. citizen decided to live in the United States, U.S. law has legal proceedings enabling the immigrant to become a U.S. citizen. No such help exists for immigrant homosexual couples.

An organization that is trying to raise awareness about queer immigrants and the issues they face is entitled Immigration Equality. Their mission statement is as follows:

Immigration Equality is a national organization fighting for equality under U.S. immigration law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and HIV-positive individuals. Founded in 1994 as the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force, Immigration Equality provides legal aid and advocacy for LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants and their families.

The organization performs various services, specializing in legal services and legal advice for binational (one immigrant, one U.S. citizen) gay couples as well as having “also helped hundreds of immigrants and their attorneys to win asylum in the United States based on their sexual orientation, transgender identity, and/or HIV-positive status”( In addition, according to their website, that there are 36,000 same sex binational couples in the U.S.

Hopefully the work of this organization and work by scholars such as Manalansan will inform people as to the presence of non-heterosexual immigrants in this country. The field of immigration studies might expand its theories, beliefs and assumptions to include sexual identity as determining and influential factor.


Immigration Equality 2012. “About”. Immigration Equality. Retreived May 11 2012(

Manalansan, Martin F. 2006. “Queer Intersections: Sexuality and Gender in Migration Studies.” International Migration Review. 40(1): 224-9.


Is Education a Fundamental Right?

Article 26 – (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

– The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares “Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” The declaration that elementary education should be free for undocumented youth in Texas was challenged in the 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe. Following the decision of Supreme Court case San Antonio v. Rodriguez (1973), the court’s ruling in Plyler v. Doe enhanced the discussion of whether or not the right to education was a fundamental right or just an ordinary right.

A fundamental right is described as “a basic or foundational right, derived from natural law; a right deemed by the Supreme Court to receive the highest level of Constitutional protection against government interference” ( The naming of education as a fundamental right became a highlighted issue in the 1973 San Antonio v. Rodriguez hearing. The court case was concerning the matter of financing of public schools in Texas which led to disparities in individual school resources. The court decided that the fiscal plan implemented by the state has “abundantly satisfied this standard” (U.S. Supreme Court 1973). The Supreme Court decision in San Antonio v. Rodriguez found that there is no constitutional right to education because it is not expressed so in the Constitution (

Education as a fundamental right was revisited in Plyler v. Doe. The case concerned the issue of a Texas law that required undocumented youth to pay fees in order to attend K-12 public schools. In what Andrew Stevenson describes as “landmark decision,” the Supreme Court “established the right of undocumented immigrant youth to education to the U.S.” (2004: 562). The court discussed that “education as a special public benefit, holding that the right to education lay somewhere between an ordinary and fundamental right, regardless of a person’s immigration status” (Stevenson 2004: 563). However, the court ultimately decided that education was not a fundamental right. The decision of the court guarantees the right to free education for undocumented youth only for K-12 public education. This means that undocumented youths are unable to receive state and federal funds for postsecondary education.

The decisions made in San Antonio v. Rodriguez (1973) and Plyler v. Doe (1982) continue to affect the lives of students in the United States today. Every year undocumented youth graduate from high school prepared to continue on in postsecondary education but soon find that they are ineligible to receive state and federal funds for financial aid. In reference to postsecondary education, Article 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights that “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” Undocumented youth in the United States are not equally accessible to higher education, especially when considering the burden of tuition fees. It is time that the Court revisited San Antonio v. Rodriguez and Plyler v. Doe to reexamine the issue of education as a fundamental right.

Works Cited:

Chaltain, Sam. (May 16, 2011). Your education is not an equal opportunity. Retrieved from

Fundamental Right. (n.d.) In Retrieved from

Stevenson, Andrew. (2004). DREAMing of an Equal Future For Immigrant Children: Federal State Initiatives to Improve Undocumented Students’ Access to Postsecondary Education. Arizona Law Review, 46, 551-580.

San Antonio School District v Rodriquez. Retrieved from <>.

San Antonio Independent School Dis v. Rodriguez. Retrieved from

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from

The Curse of Ignorance

After learning of the many injustices undocumented immigrants face on a daily basis, it is hard to not become infuriated. The laws and regulations the government enforces demonize the immigrant, whether undocumented or not, and this affects the way that immigrants are treated in society. Two days ago, I had to listen to a coworker furiously complain about “all the illegal students who are going to college for free.” She was upset because her two children are graduating college with over a hundred thousand dollars worth of college debt with an extremely high interest rate. Instead of being upset about the high costs of a college education, or even the companies who provide college loans with really difficult caveats, my coworker was insistent that her children were missing out on free education because of illegal immigrants. The ignorance she expressed is common in society and creates a hostile environment when advocating for immigrant rights.

Rallies, petitions and protests are commendable but I believe the biggest problem is changing society’s misconceptions of the immigrant. Immigrants are hard working individuals who aim to create a better life for their families. However, the overwhelming belief is that immigrants aim to take advantage of the systems and benefits set in place for citizens. There is also a concern among citizens regarding the growth of the Latino immigrant population in recent years and the increasing popularity of the Spanish language and culture, which is believed to compromise American culture. These concerns spawn hatred and ignorance in society and were the reasons for my coworker’s ridiculous claim.

The problem with these claims is that they have been disputed with research and declared incorrect by sociologists and educators, but the truth fails to reach a mass audience.  The education I shared with my coworker only corrected her ignorance on college admissions but I could not change her hatred of illegal immigrants. What I find is that too often people want to point fingers at another person (or race) and fail to realize that the government and huge corporations are the ones who are responsible for the problems they face. Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, have struggled to assimilate in the U.S. and have made numerous achievements that too often go unrecognized.

According to Dowell Myers and John Pitkin’s (2012) report, assimilation benchmarks – Citizenship, Home ownership, English language proficiency, Job status, Better Income – have been reached by numerous immigrants. Myers and Pitkin reported that “the longer immigrants are here, the more they assimilate, resulting in even greater levels of achievement for their children and sowing the seeds of progress for generations to come” (2010). Second and third generation immigrants often achieve the dreams of their immigrant parents in becoming successful members of society. To have personally achieved three of the five benchmarks, I realize my process of assimilation is still an on-going one. Assimilation is not immediate and it is unfair to judge and criticize immigrants without giving them a chance to attempt assimilation. Ignorance is a damaging curse to the progress of immigrant assimilation and must be tackled.



Myers, Dowell and John Pitkin. 2012. “Assimilation Today”. Center for American Progress, September 1.Retrieved May 5, 2012 (


Barriers to Reunification

When discussing the deportation and detention of undocumented immigrants, the conversation rarely includes the impact that the actions of the U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have on the children of undocumented parents.   From the immediate emotional trauma of being separated from one or both parents, to the physical trauma of leaving their homes, children of undocumented parents suffer to an alarming extent.  The ICE tactic of removal is usually a forceful and violent one in which parents are dragged off in one direction while children are hauled off in another. Goodbyes are rarely afforded to detainees and immediate removal does not allow for time to secure the welfare of the children. If no relative is able to advocate for the children, the ICE’s course of action is to place the children in the care of Child Protective Services until the state can decide their fate. As legal U.S. citizens, these children are entitled to remain in the country without their parents and are placed in the foster care program. In 2011, the Applied Research Center, which publishes the Color Lines website, reported that “at least 5,100 children whose parents are detained or deported are currently in foster care around the United States” (Wessler 2011). The foster care program aims to place these children with available foster families, without regard for linguistic and cultural similarities. Children are forced to grow up in different environments from their own, without knowledge of their culture or ancestry. Siblings are sometimes separated and placed in different homes, creating a second level of separation. The emotional turmoil that these events have on children often go unmentioned as these children are shuffled around in the foster care system.


Parents in detention centers, or those who have been deported, are disconnected from the real world and have no access to their children, family, lawyers or child welfare caseworkers. The immediate detention of undocumented parents severs all forms of communication, which usually lasts for months and sometimes years. The Applied Research Center reported that “ 85 percent of detainees lack legal representation and can be held for months, sometimes years, in squalid conditions” (Wessler 2011). Lacking the means to defend their parental rights over their children only adds to the frustration already felt in detention centers.  The ICE does not aid in providing legal services for detainees, often resulting in many parents missing court dates and foregoing the opportunity to plead their case. Without the parents’ presence at court hearings, the judge, lawyers and caseworkers decide the faith of the children without any contribution from the parents.  “Ultimately, child welfare departments and juvenile courts too often move to terminate the parental rights of deportees and put children up for adoption, rather than attempt to unify the family as they would in other circumstances” (Wessler 2011). The U.S. legal system advocates for children to remain in the U.S. in foster care rather than being deported with their parents because of the parents’ inability to provide for the children after being deported. Once deportation has occurred, reunification seems impossible and very few are able to reconnect shortly after. The emotional and physical welfare of the children of undocumented parents should be taken into consideration and changes to the ICE’s procedures changed to address their needs.


Rabin, Nina. 2011. “Disappearing Parents: A Report on Immigration Enforcement and the Child  Welfare System.” The University of Arizona. Retrieved May 5, 2012. (

Wessler, Seth Freed. 2011. “Thousand of Kids Lost From Parents in U.S. Deportation System.” Color Lines, November 2. Retrieved May 5, 2012 (



English Language Learners

“What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, so too must society want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.” – John Dewey, The School and Society 

The experiences of individual children are at the heart of my interest in bilingual education. I think we too often forget that government policies, academic scholarship, and popular media debates about bilingualism have real, palpable consequences for students throughout the country. Or even if we do recognize these consequences, it is still difficult to  construct images in our minds about how the absence of bilingual education shapes the experiences of many immigrant students.

Reflecting on my personal experiences with English language learners allows me to see the ways that the lack of bilingual education impacts students on a deeply personal level. While the individual experiences of these students are part of a larger social landscape, I think that emphasizing that these students are all unique children with their own worries, hopes, dreams, and challenges should be an important part of discussions about bilingual education.

During my time as a student at Vassar, I have worked continuously with Poughkeepsie students. Poughkeepsie has a large immigrant population, and many of the students attending Poughkeepsie schools are English language learners. Last year, I worked with a recent immigrant from Honduras in her history class. I attended multiple classes a week with her to help her make sense of the history curriculum, which was taught entirely in English. Though I speak Spanish fairly well, her teacher asked me to use Spanish as infrequently as possible. I asked this teacher about her thoughts on bilingual education, and recorded her response in my field notes:

“I don’t think students should be speaking Spanish in school…It’s just not the place. The problem is that they speak Spanish all the time, at home, with their friends. It makes it so difficult to learn English, and I feel for them because I know they just don’t get the English reinforcement they need. When I catch my students speaking Spanish I let them know that I’m not happy, it’s just making it so hard for them to learn. I know there are many theories about bilingual education and its benefits. But I just don’t know… I don’t know if there’s a place for that in schools. My students have ESL classes every day. Why should history class be in Spanish too? I’m saying this because I really don’t think it helps them, this Spanish in school.” 

During class, I saw the student I was working with become increasingly frustrated with her inability to understand the class material. Her limited English proficiency kept her from engaging with her academics, and there was no option for bilingual instruction. Though Spanish was highly present in the hallways and cafeterias of Poughkeepsie High, it had no place in her history classroom.

I worked briefly with another student at Poughkeepsie High last year, named José. José was placed in the special education classroom, but I quickly realized he had been placed there due to his language difficulties. José had a passion for math, and would breeze through the math packets his teacher gave him. One day, José and I approached his teacher, asking if we could work on more difficult math packets that could prepare him for advanced courses. The teacher looked right at José and said, “You don’t need that… you should be focusing on math that will be practical for you, like how to calculate a tip, ya know?” In that moment, I saw the light fade out of José’s face- a sight that was truly heartbreaking.

These individual stories speak to the experiences of many English language learners at Poughkeepsie High. Though there is such a large and growing immigrant population, there is no bilingual education, and Spanish language use is sometimes frowned upon by teachers. The absence of bilingual education presents enormous challenges for many immigrant students, and hinders their ability to be academically successful. The lack of recognition of the cultural and linguistic knowledge that immigrants possess reinforces stereotypes and damages many students’ confidence and sense of self.

My interactions with English language learners at home in Connecticut stand in striking contrast with those in Poughkeepsie. My mom is a speech pathologist in my hometown (a small, affluent suburb in northern Connecticut). She works with preschool students, most of whom come from white, upper-middle class families. There is not much ethnic or racial diversity where we live, and English language learners are few and far between in the public schools. This year, however, my mom has a student, Juan, whose family recently emigrated from Mexico. Juan is five years old, and very quiet. He comes to school every morning with a bright blue back-pack and a small, hesitant smile. My mom spoke to me a bit about Juan and other English learners in her school district:

“It’s challenging when so few of our students are English language learners. I think it’s really isolating for them, especially the very young students. Juan attends a particularly small elementary school in town, and he is the only student at this school who is a native Spanish speaker. The only other ESL students are two siblings from Bosnia and one boy from Korea. In some ways this is great, because the ESL teacher can devote so much time and attention to each of the students. But it’s also hard because the ESL students don’t have a larger network of English learners who share their experiences. Juan never has the opportunity to speak Spanish with anyone, there are no teachers here who can speak. Well, I can speak a little, but not enough to carry a conversation or teach. I constantly think about how isolating that must be for him.” 

Unlike students in Poughkeepsie, Juan is not surrounded by fellow English learners, and the absence of bilingual instruction means that he is rarely given the opportunity to express himself in his native language, if ever. When I’m home, I often go to work with my mom and I love seeing Juan. The first time I met him, I started a conversation in Spanish, and I saw his eyes instantly light up. He became animated and chatty, and my mom told me that she had never seen him so expressive or enthusiastic. He finally had the chance to express himself in the language he felt most comfortable in.

The experiences of English language learners in different environments throughout the U.S vary greatly- but English learners in all places face challenges due to the absence of bilingual education. It is important to remember that language is a critical component of students’ identities. Amidst all of the current debates about immigration, bilingualism, and immigrant schooling, I think it is important to remember the struggles of individual students, and to work towards finding the light behind each and every students’ eyes.

Arizona’s Ban on Ethnic Studies

Over the past few years, Arizona has implemented harsh anti-immigration laws, such as Senate Bill 1070 and House Bill 2281. The SB 1070 law, signed on April 2010 by governor Jan Brewer, would essentially legalize racial profiling since it would allow authorities to stop and detain an individual they believe is undocumented. Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies, which was implemented by John Huppenthal, the superintendent of public instruction in 2011, is officially known as HB 2281. This state law prohibits public and charter schools from incorporating Mexican or Chicano studies into curriculums. In doing so schools must remove books that convey Mexican solidarity and ‘bashing’ of the United States. Law makers are specially targeting classes and courses they believe cultivates an anti-American attitude, fosters unity among ethnic groups which could potentially lead them to advocate for the overthrow of the United States government; in short, “HB 2281 bans schools from teaching classes that are designed for students of a particular ethnic group, promote resentment or advocate ethnic solidarity over treating pupils as individuals. The bill also bans classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government” (Santa Cruz 2010).

Though policy makers are only viewing Mexican ethnic studies as potentially harmful to the United States, in reality the program has proven to help Latino students stay in school. Dropout rates among Latinos are incredibly high, but statistics have shown that Chicano based curriculums in Arizona have dramatically decreased drop-out rates among this group; “Tucson’s ethnic studies program, created in 1998 and initially called ‘Mexican American/Raza Studies,’ has been effective in reducing dropout rates among Latino students, as well as discipline problems, poor attendance and failure rates, teachers said” (Martinez 2011). In Tucson, “about 3% of the district’s 55,000 students are enrolled in such classes;” the number of students in these classes is so few, there does not seem to be much of a threat. Yet policy makers are placing their efforts in banning these programs that so few students actually are part of. Though law makers might argue that ethnic studies are detrimental to America, high-drop out rates are more harmful to the future generations.

Similar anti-immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama, which target Latino immigrants are shown to negatively impact children of immigrants; policies are targeting their parents placement in the United States and now they are targeting these children’s education; “U.S. immigration policy has become more restrictive and punitive as government policies have expanded intervention at the federal and local levels. These changes have both contributed to a hostile anti-immigrant climate, and have placed undocumented immigrant children in an even more precarious economic situation” (Androff 2011: 80). In short, anti-immigration laws have only create a hostile environments for immigrants who clearly have made the United States their home. The law is now being proposed to be extended to public states colleges. Some state officials who supported the ban have admitted to have never entered a classroom with a Mexican studies curriculum, but they based their decisions on banning Mexican studies because “they simply didn’t like the idea of teachers telling students the apparently subversive facts that nonwhite people have at times suffered at the hands of white people, or that people of every color have at times acted with color-conscious solidarity” (Liu 2012). This brings into question, why and how are these policy makers basing their decisions on anti-immigrants laws?


Androff, David K. et al. (2011). “U.S. Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s   Wellbeing: The Impact of Policy Shifts.” Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare.

Liu, Eric (2012). The Whitewashing of Arizona. Time.

Martinez, Michael. (2011). Arizona education chief moves to ban ethnic studies in Tucson schools. CNN US.

Santa Cruz, Nicole (2010). Arizona bill targeting ethnic studies signed into law. Los Angeles Times. Url:

My Reflection on the Ban of Ethnic Studies in Arizona

Informed by xenophobia, in 2010 Arizona’s governor Jan Brewer signed into law a ban on ethnic studies in school districts. But this ban on ethnic studies is not on all ethnic studies, it is interesting and telling to note that the ban only encompasses Mexican studies. Some of the reasons policy makers gave for the ban of Mexican studies was that it promoted anti-American sentiments. Yet under this logic, African-American studies, Native-Americans studies and all the other studies which are under the umbrella of ‘ethnic’ studies would potentially foster the same anti-American sentiments. Yet none of these other ethnic studies were banned. The ban on Mexican ethnic studies in the Tucson district reflects the anti-Latino immigrant stance of Americans society.

I am a child of Latino immigrants and only until I got to college did I have chance to read about my Latino culture and history. Additionally, only until I came to college was I able to read articles and books written by Latino scholars. This was completely empowering to me and for the first time in my school career I saw people like myself in scholarly work. This gave me a chance to imagine the possibility that I too, could become one of these Latino scholars. In schools, euro-centric mentalities are fostered by emphasizing an importance on dominant-white history or history which only views events through the perspective of the colonizers. The banning of ethnic studies in Arizona is completely detrimental to students of Mexican decent. The ban itself can potentially continue to generate and create anti-American sentiments that I have experienced are commonly held among young Latinos. Banning Mexican ethnic studies sends the message that Latinos do not have a history worth learning. Moreover, in my experience going to high school with a majority of Latino population, students cannot connect with the books they are required to read. It was only until we read a book with a Latino protagonist, did my peers actually become engaged and read a book. It is easy for students to stop caring and trying when they are unable to connect with the material. When we have no Latino role models who have gone on to higher education, it becomes difficult to believe that we ourselves can go on to higher education. Banning ethnic studies is only further marginalizing a group of students who are overrepresented in prisons and underrepresented in higher education.

Yet I come back to this point, why only target Mexican studies? African-American and Native-American studies are no different that Mexican studies. All these ethnic studies have a different take on history that does not comply with the dominant white history. This ban on Mexican studies in a border state is directly tied to the xenophobia which is currently present towards Latino immigrants. The number of people coming from Latino American boomed in the last couple of decades. This boom created fear that they were taking over the United States and culture. This ban, along with SB 1070, which would allow officials to stop people they believe are without documents, is not surprising with the current political and economic climate in the United States. In times of trouble, a scapegoat is necessary. With the economy taking a turn for the worse, Latino immigrants have been blamed for taking away jobs, increasing drug related crimes and overall being a burden to the economy. Targeting the education of Latino youth is just another way of sending the message that we have to assimilate into American culture. Full incorporation seems to be what is required of immigrants. Learning about ones culture is empowering and gives agency, but by banning ethnic studies Latino youth are in schools which pressure them to remove any marker of ethnic and cultural difference.

Contradictory Language Values for Ethnic and Non-Ethnic Children in Schools,But English Still Dominates

Despite nativist fears of losing English as the dominant language, studies continually prove that English is the preferred language among new generations of immigrants.  Immigrants are the fastest growing student population in US schools, and half of them don’t speak English fluently (Calderon, Slavin, Sanchez, 2011: 103).  Schools are the site of most of the language controversy because of their historical role of socializing children in the American mainstream, making bilingual education a topic of controversy.  Lacking a common culture or common history, the use of English became the essential part of being “American.” By the 1920s language loyalty oaths from children in schools was commonplace to reinforce English dominance (Portes and Schauffler, 1994: 642).  Furthermore, academics believed bilingualism caused confusion and development problems, which has since been refuted (Portes and Schauffler, 1994: 643).

Assimilation studies seek to measure patterns of language loss among immigrants over time.  Language assimilation among the second generation varies with length of residence, geographical location, strength of the ethnic enclave, and socio-economic status (Portes and Schauffler, 1994: 645).  Although ethnic enclaves influence greater retention of the parent language, the general pattern across many ethnic groups in segmented assimilation studies is a preference for speaking English.  The first generation learns enough to get by economically, the second generation will continue to speak their parent language in the home, and the third generation will most likely be monolingual English (Portes and Schauffler, 1994: 643).

In their work Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America, Ruben Rumbaut and Alejandro Portes compile a collection of data for segmented assimilationist studies on Mexican, Cuban, Haitian, Vietnamese, and other ethnic groups.  Part of each study tracked language proficiency and preference from 1992-1995.  In all cases, English language proficiency and preference increased among second and third generations (Rumbaut and Portes, 2001).  Each community differed in rates of proficiency due to different social and economic barriers and ties to an ethnic enclave.  Interestingly, the Cuban community in Miami had the highest rates of bilingualism and Spanish language retention, as well as 95 percent preference for speaking English in everyday communication (Perez, 2001: 115).  For some groups, speaking English is associated with higher self-esteem and better performance in school among children on immigrants.  Language is especially important for children in the school setting.  Immigrant parents often push their children to learn and perfect English because it is associated with success (Espiritu and Wolf, 2001: 174).

Ethnic languages have the fastest rates of disappearance than any other country (Portes and Schauffler, 1994).  Today, many immigrants already come equipped with English skills or are quick to try and adapt linguistically.  Depending on class and location, it is easier for some groups to retain their parent language, and studies have shown the cognitive value of bilingualism.  Yet language remains a controversial issue in school policy and supporting English Language Learners.  There is a double standard for immigrant students to drop their ethnic language, while native upper and middle class families encourage their children to learn Latin, French, or German (Portes and Schauffler, 1994: 643).  There is no clear policy for state school districts on identifying or instructing ELL students, and few teachers are trained on how to teach them (Calderon, Slavin, Sanchez, 2011: 103).  On the other hand, public and private schools have foreign language graduation requirements for students and bilingualism is highly valued.  This difference in expectations and treatment between immigrant and ethnic children and native children of language in schools and in society should continue to be addressed.  The studies mentioned above show that bilingualism in schools and language retention in the community does not negatively affect English preference.  Although the number of Spanish and other foreign language speakers are moving to the US, English is not in danger of being lost.



Calderon, Margarita, Robert Slavin, and Marta Sanchez. 20011. “Effective Instruction for English Learners.” The Future of Children. 21(1): 103-127.

Perez, Lisandro. 2001. “Growing Up in Cuban Miami.” Pp. 91-123 in Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America. New York, University of California Press.


Portes, Alejandro, and Richard Schauffler. 1994. “Language and the second generation: Bilingualism yesterday and today.” International Migration Review. 28(4): 640-661.

Rumbaut, Ruben, and Alejandro Portes. 2001. Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America. New York, University of California Press.