An Overview of Black Diasporic Immigration to the US

Given a long and ongoing history of racism, characterized by the enslavement, repression, and exploitation of black bodies, what prompts the world’s Black communities to join the American public as immigrants?

Source: Figure 1, Kent 2007

Source: Kent 2007, Figure 1

Because of the color of their skin and shared ethnic roots, international Black peoples may not be unaffected by the racial caste system which U.S. native-born blacks have endured since this country’s founding. Despite this, about eight percent of the U.S. foreign-born population is comprised of Black immigrants (Faris 2012). These immigrants were even responsible for at least one-fifth of US-born black population growth between 2001 and 2006! The foreign-born Black population has been on the rise since the latter half of the 20th century, proceeding from a 150 year period of sparse immigration (Kent 2007:3,4). As America – the ‘Nation of Immigrants’ – approaches an increasingly cosmopolitan population, how will the future of race relations and international diplomacy shape the trajectories of our Black immigrant communities?

A clarification of terms: Who, what, and where is Black?

‘Black’ is used loosely in this discussion so as to represent both the racial and ethnic categories which Black individuals embody. When populations are referred to as Black in an ethnic context, it is to say that they have common ancestry and cultural elements rooted in African diasporic communities. These are the cultural groups which originated on continental Africa and were dispersed throughout the Americas and the Caribbean during the Atlantic slave trade. Black ethnic communities will differ from one another; there is no single culture that represents the Black ethnicity. In a racial context, Black will be discussed as the American classification of individuals who might have a common skin-tone, ethnic background, or social/cultural affiliations often associated with those who might be called ‘African American,’ or those with longer US-born lineage dating back to American slavery. Diamond Sharp, editorial fellow at The Root, sheds light on the Black racial/ethnic distinction,

“I think what’s at the heart of much of the discord is that, because of racism in the United States, “black” people get lumped together. Our respective histories and cultures are not recognized or valued. We may all share a skin tone, but our cultures are not the same. People have the right and the need to identify themselves with their respective cultures.” (2014)

In respect of the multitude of cultural realities that blackness encompasses, it may be useful to read into the context in which a community is labeled or self-identified as Black throughout this article.

Black Immigration: Demographics and Origins

About two thirds of America’s 2.8 million foreign-born Black population in 2005 came from the Caribbean and Latin American countries while one third were born in Africa. Black foreign-born Caribbean immigrants are largely from Jamaica, Haiti, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago. From Spanish-speaking countries, most Black immigrants are from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, and Cuba. The majority of black African immigrants are from ten countries: Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Eritrea, and Guinea. Together, these ten countries account for 70 percent of black immigrants of African origin (Kent 2007:4-7). Black immigrants, like many others, settle throughout America’s metropolitan cities, as seen in the figure below:


Source: Kent 2007, Figure 4

While all Black immigrants tend to settle in America’s metropolitan centers, Black African immigrants are more largely dispersed throughout the country. A look at the contexts of Black African and Caribbean/Latin American immigrants sheds light on the factors that lead these groups to the US.

Source: Kent 2007, Figure 3

Source: Kent 2007, Figure 3

Black Caribbeans and Latin Americans

Observable by their high numbers, Caribbean/Latin American immigration is facilitated by their close proximity to the US. Over 80 percent of recent immigrants form these regions gained entry to the country through family members who already lived in the US. As seen above, a large majority of these families were already situated in metropolitan areas (Kent 2007:5). These immigrants were largely driven from their home countries due to a lack of economic opportunity. Thus, facilitated by their strong English skills, many Caribbean immigrants will enter the country as business travelers, or will join a temporary work or study program (5, 11).


Source: Kent 2007, Figure 2

Black Africans

With the African continent more distant and  voluntary migration being minimal after the slave trade, most of the growth in the black African population has occurred within the last two decades. In fact, Black Africans are now some of the fastest growing immigrant populations in the US.(Capps 2012:2).  The 1980’s is (crudely) considered by many to be Africa’s “lost decade,” when many African countries experienced political instability, economic deterioration, and extreme poverty. At the same time, America was becoming a hub for international study with the introduction of diversity visas, which sought to increase the influx immigrants from underrepresented countries (Kent 2007:4,5). The factors drove most recent Black Africans to enter the country as refugees or through diversity visas (See Kent 2007, Figure 3 above).

The Bigger Picture of Black Immigration


The Center for American Progress states that Black immigrants are among the most educated immigrant populations in the US! This might reflect the fact highly educated Black Africans and Caribbeans are selected for immigration. Grace Kao in Education and Immigration states that immigrant populations may differ from the general population of their home countries because certain individual characteristics provide better opportunity for entry to the US (2013:76,77). The most educated and highly skilled African and  Caribbean immigrants will be more likely to receive diversity visas, or be able to afford the cost of travel to the United States. In fact, recipients of diversity visas require at least a high school degree or two years of employment or training (Capps 2012:12).

Transnational Identities

Black immigrants often retain strong cultural ties to their home countries. Black Caribbean immigrants speak more English at home than African immigrants, but they are likely to speak an English dialect such as Jamaican or French Creole. Black Africans are more likely to speak an African language in the home (Kent 2007:11). Some Black immigrants may live together in ethnic enclaves. These are communities of people with common ethnic roots, where individuals can retain their cultural values and network with one another through businesses and other institutions (Rumbaut and Portes 2001:loc.1414). Some of the economic success that Caribbean immigrants are often associated with reflects the mobility that Caribbean enclaves have enabled. Caribbean immigrants, being so close to the US, maintain strong connections to family and friends abroad. African immigrants are likely to continue to engage in their home country’s politics. Both groups may send money home to their families (Kent 2007:15). These connections help Black immigrants craft their dual identity as Americans and peoples of the international Black community.

Facing Discrimination

Persisting racial inequality in the United States leads some to postulate that Black immigrants may come to join the American underclass with  US-born African Americans. The underclass is seen as class of peoples whose socioeconomic or racial background leads them to downward socioeconomic mobility, which their potential for growth capped by structural inequality (Alba and Nee 2003:loc.3562). While the validity of an American “underclass” is debatable, the concept reminds us that racial perceptions can severely limit opportunity for non-whites in the US.

The Center for American Progress claims that despite the Black Africans’ high educational attainment, they earn lower wages than immigrants with similar credentials. While Black Caribbean immigrants are valued for their strong English fluency, African immigrants often are devalued for their poor English capabilities and strong accents (Faris 2012). Both negative perceptions of Africans and American blackness can contribute to the psychological and socioeconomic strife that Black immigrants will face as they navigate American society.

The Future of Black immigration

How will current events shape the future of Black immigration?

Following the recent American acquisition of Ebola, there has been a surge of anti-African xenophobia in the media. There are reports of African students being bullied barred from attending classes stemming from these fears. Simultaneously, there is an increasing stigma concerning travel to and from Africa, especially in areas with current Ebola victims. How will anti-African xenophobia shape US-African relation outside and within borders?

The rising Black Lives Matter movement, following the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by white officer Darren Wilson, is creating ripples of dialogue about race relations in America. Black Americans, both US and foreign-born, are joining the masses of individuals who are working to resist structural racism and reaffirm blackness in this country. Will the discourse of Black Lives Matter extend beyond American borders and mobilize Black communities across the globe? How will this discourse shape future tras-national/pan-African identities?

These are some of the questions that we, as Americans, will have to ask ourselves as Black immigration and blackness continue to enter the public eye and the public psyche.


Alba, Richard and Victor Nee. 2003. Remaking the American mainstream: Assimilation and contemporary immigration. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Capps, Randy. 2012. Diverse Streams: African Migration to the United States. Migration Policy Institute (

Faris, Helina. Center for American Progress. 2012. “5 Fast Facts About Black Immigrants in the United States.” Retrieved November 10, 2014 (

Kao, Melissa. 2013. Education and Immigration. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Kent, Mary Mederios. 2002. Immigration and America’s Black Population. Population Reference Bureau. Vol. 62, No.4. Washington, DC. Retrieved November 10, 2014 (

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

Treatment of Unaccompanied Minors in Detention Centers

 In 2013, around 38,000 unaccompanied minors were detained at the U.S./Mexico border. All of these children, coming from countries where they are facing drug and gang violence while dealing with political corruption. In 2014, that number increased by at least 15,000.The recent jump shows that the majority of the children are coming from from Central American countries, those countries being Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Once detained, their fates depend on their country of origin. If the children were previously living in Mexico, then they get sent straight back. The only way some of the children can stay is if they prove that they are a victim of neglect, abuse, or abandonment in order to receive Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status and even then, those are really hard things to prove because of how vague this stated by the law (Lloyd, 2005). The rest of the children get sent to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and then to detention centers. (Gordon, 2014).

A bar graph of child migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador

Detention centers are meant to house the children while it is decided whether they are going to be deported or be put into foster care. “In fiscal 2011, ORR had 53 shelters that housed 6,560 kids. By 2013, there were 80 shelters with nearly 25,000 unaccompanied children.” (Gordon, 2014). Due to the recent surge in unaccompanied minors, these facilities are under a strain to keep up to code in order to properly care for the children. While there has been 30 more centers opened, they are not always up to the regulations and requirements set by the Flores Agreement in 1997, stating that the facilities needed to have food and water, medical assistance in emergencies, toilets and sinks, adequate temperature control and ventilation, adequate supervision to protect minors from others, and separation from unrelated adults whenever possible. (CBP’s handling of Unaccompanied Alien Children, 2010). Not all of the facilities follow the guidelines set by the agreement and in turn are not taking proper care of them by not providing enough space and by criminalizing unaccompanied minors.


The amount of unaccompanied minors that were detained at the border in 2014 was more than expected. There were so many that they started allowing in more children than the facilities can hold. A lot of the time, facilities will hold twice as many children as they’re supposed to. “The INS Daily Population Report stated that the Krome, Florida facility had a capacity of 200 people but it held 445 detainees.68 Similarly, the same report stated that the Los Fresnos, Texas facility had a capacity of 350 people but it held 674 detainees” (Navarro, 1998). One of the problems with this is that it makes them susceptible to illnesses which is dangerous in a closed space because it can be contagious and there might not be enough medical attention to help them all. Some of the illnesses that have gone around are things like tuberculosis, chicken pox, and scabies (Picket, 2014). While treatable, it is dangerous to allow these kinds of things because, as previously mentioned, there might not be enough medical care to either properly help everyone who is affected or it might be difficult to stop airborne illnesses from spreading. Along with illness, another problem with overpopulating these facilities is the lack of beds to accommodate the children. According to Wendy Young (Lind, 2014), a worker of Kids in Need of Defense, most facilities are meant to have 6,000 to 8,000 kids a year. This means that there are only enough beds for a certain amount of children. If there are only 8,000 beds a year and 60,000 unaccompanied minors, that means that 52,000 children do not have a bed to sleep on and are sharing a floor with the rest of the children who are in there with them which can be detrimental to their health.


The way the children are treated is very similar to the way an inmate would be treated at a prison. Some of these facilities are surrounded by fences with barbed wire or are very heavily policed (Navarro, 1998). Children know what a prison looks like and have a good idea of what a cop looks like. In their case, the security guards, being the authority that is supervising them, play the role of the “cop” and can make the children feel like they are prisoners. “The kids were never left unattended. They went to school inside, they played sports inside, and they only got out for supervised outings in the community or for medical and mental-health appointments” (Gordon, 2014). The fact that they are not allowed anywhere without supervision has an effect on their self esteem and can add to the stress and fear of being detained for so long. They are in there for very long periods of time, usually without any contact with family members. Unaccompanied minors can also become fearful of being watched over because of the abuse they might experience at the hand of their security. In 1989, a security guard was convicted of sexually assaulting an unaccompanied minor (Navarro, 1998). Other incidents such as mental and verbal abuse have been reported. Incidents like these can have long lasting effects on the children’s physical and mental health. Keeping them in a place where they don’t feel safe around the people who are there to protect them is damaging . On top of being afraid of security, they are afraid of some of the children who are also there. There have been reports of being robbed and threatened by the other children at night, which puts everyone else on edge. At that point, it leaves them with the feeling that they cannot trust anyone in the detention centers.


Unaccompanied minors are brave souls that choose to make the journey from their home countries all the way to the United States by themselves. We need to listen to them and provide them with the resources they need, even if it is at the level of the detention centers they are being kept in. It is important to recognize that this has been an issue for a long time, it has just been given more media attention in the past year. The presence and actions of these children should speak to the need for immigration reform. They are trying to tell us what 12 million undocumented immigrants have already said.


Navarro, Lisa Rodriquez. 1998. “An Analysis of Treatment of Unaccompanied Immigrant and Refugee Children in INS Detention and Other Forms of Institutionalized Custody.”Chicano-Latino Law Review 19:589-612.

Lloyd, Angela. 2005. “Regulating Consent: Protecting Undocumented Immigrant Children from their (Evil) Step-Uncle Sam, or How to Ameliorate the Impact of the 1997 Amendments to the SIJ law.” Public Interest Law Journal 15:237-261.

Lind, Dara. 2014. “14 facts that help explain America’s child migrant crisis” Vox, July 29. Retrieved December 15, 2014 (

Gordon, Ian. 2014. “70,000 Kids Will Show Up Alone at Our Border This Year. What Happens to Them?” Mother Jones, August. Retrieved December 15, 2014 (

2010. “CBP’s Handling of Unaccompanied Alien Children” Department of Homeland Security. Office of Inspector General. Retrieved December 15, 2014 (

Picket, Kerry. 2014. “Homeland Security Report Confirms Diseases Spreading at Border Facilities” BreitBart, July 31. Retrieved December 15, 2014 (



Bullying Based on Assumptions: Immigrant Student Interactions in American Schools

Despite being one of the most important socialization institutions for youth in America, schools seem to fail at fostering appreciation and acceptance of differences present in students. Within the last decade, minority groups have surpassed the American mainstream, which has classically been considered to be American-born, White middle class, in the K-12 age bracket of the population. Currently, minority students make up more than half of the school-aged population (Calderón, Slavin and Sánchez 2011) and approximately twenty percent of that youth population is immigrants or children of immigrants (Pumariega and Rothe 2010.) Out of the immigrant and children of immigrant, a majority of these students are Hispanic, specifically of Mexican decent, and of Asian decent (Peguero 2009).

Generational Differences in  ethnicity proportions in United States (Keene and Handrich 2012)

Generational Differences in ethnicity proportions in United States (Keene and Handrich 2012)

With this influx of diversity in schools, institutional change has been slow to provide the appropriate care and support for these students to feel safe as they learn and socialize, which manifests itself in the typically lower performance of immigrant youth (Crosnoe and López 2011.) As a result, peer-peer bullying in schools persists as a major problem for immigrant and children of immigrant youth. Bullying that occurs to this particular group students differs from other types of bullying as these students are targeted based on their perceived ethnicity and their lack of power in comparison to their peers caused by differing appearances, language and cultural norms in compared to what is considered the American mainstream (Scherr and Larson 2010.) It is important to keep in mind, however, that ethnicity and race are two separate factors that could cause bullying of students. Ethnicity tends to be “chosen or assigned,” while race is defined as the categories created by the “racial categories or hierarchies [that are] reinforced through micro-level interactions” (Kao, Vaquera and Goyette 2013: 108).

Diversity breakdown of American Schools (National Center for Educational Statistics 2014).

Diversity breakdown of American Schools (National Center for Educational Statistics 2014).

Though bullying does not seem to connect to school in an academic sense, bullying in schools causes a host of negative physiological effects that alter how a student will perform in school and the opinions they will form about schools and other American institutions. Many existing school policies, like the structure of English Language Learning (ELL) classes as being subtractive in regards to viewing foreign languages as a hindrance for immigrant students (Calderón, Slavin and Sánchez 2011), and societal norms and stereotypes make schools unsafe for immigrant and children of immigrant youth. This problem is rooted in general society, as opposed to being a direct result of schooling, which makes finding appropriate ways to reduce bullying in schools or handling an immigrant or child of immigrant bullying situation complex.

In order to better understand the bullying of immigrant youth, it is important to ask the following questions to grasp a more complete understanding of the problem.

  • Who is being victimized?
  • Who are executing these acts?
  • What acts are being committed toward immigrant and children of immigrant students?
  • Why are these victims being bullied?
  • What can be done to help alleviate this problem?

Who is being victimized?

The students that are targeted for this type of bullying differ from the American mainstream in cultural practices, ethnicity and occasionally, race (Scherr and Larson 2010:225). Many times, these characteristics are perceived by the perpetrators based on factors like spoken language or English-speaking abilities and race, which make it difficult to clearly define the precise group that is being bullied. In order to account for this, we will focus on the bullying of students who themselves are immigrants and students who are children of immigrants. These students are most likely to have perceivable differences from the American mainstream that their peers can pick up and ostracize them for.

Who are executing these acts?

White students, minority students and fellow immigrant students themselves perpetrate bullying of immigrant students (Scherr and Larson 2010: 227). These acts of bullying usually appear in the form of micro-aggressions and preference for their own ethnic or racial group in elementary school and progress into more outwardly pointed types of teasing and occasionally, violence (Scherr and Larson 2010: 231).

What acts are being committed toward immigrant and children of immigrant students?

            Bullying takes shape in classrooms in the form of micro-aggressions or physically violent acts that solidify racial and ethnic hierarchical structure and the racial and ethnic stereotypes. Friend choice, the formations of friend groups or cliques and their physical locations within schools and taunting are common forms that micro-aggressions that students use to point out differences in students and their or their family’s immigrant status. Blunter forms of bullying include causing physical harm towards someone through hitting, kicking, fighting or other actions target at the student’s body (Peguero 2009). These incidents can many times be classified as bias incidents as they attack a student for their backgrounds, which are not variable to change, but are not treated as such by school administration (Bridging Refugee Youth& Children’s Services 2014).

Why are these victims being bullied?

            As previously mentioned, immigrant and children of immigrant students that are being bullied are targeted because of their ethnic and racial differences in comparison to the mainstream. These ideals, however, stem from society itself and how schools choose to perpetuate these ideals to their staff and students. Two major classes of immigrant populations in schools currently are Hispanic youth and students of Asian descent. These two groups are treated very differently, however, due to the prevalent stereotypes that exist about them in society.

Despite the fact that students who are within the first generation, meaning they were born in their home country and moved to America, are high achieving no matter the country of origin, students of Hispanic origin are perceived as being less capable and intelligent than their peers (Kao, Grace and Goyette 2013). This stereotype is perpetuated through the school structure via teacher opinions and expectations of students and the negative association students and teachers have with students who must participate in ELL programs. These programs tend to physically isolate students from their peers as well as instill the idea that knowing a language other than English is not an asset, despite the fact that foreign languages are usually a requirement to attend college (Calderón, Slavin and Sánchez 2011.) This also occurs to immigrant students who fall into an existing group in America that is mistreated and stereotyped, like Black students. When Black immigrants come to the United States, they grouped together with native-born Black Americans and are attributed as being lower achieving and classroom instigators, as that is the common narrative perpetuated in society (Kao, Grace and Goyette 2013).

Contrary to the stock stories about Hispanic immigrant students, students of Asian descent are stereotyped to be high achieving. This creates a perceived competition between these immigrant students and others and a higher pressure to for students of Asian decent to either fulfill stereotypes or actively disassociate with them (Kao, Grace and Goyette 2013). ). The added stress for both of these ethnic groups to fit in with their peers in order to feel safe and respected at school in addition to trying to break out of the stereotypes put on an exorbitant amount of stress of immigrant and children of immigrant students before even being bullied. The act of bullying students employs the multiple risk model, where many negative factors compact and create a larger, detrimental effect on these students. Outcomes of these types of bullying can be lower school performance, mental health issues and additionally bullying or aggression (Yu et al 2003).

What can be done about to help alleviate this problem?

The bullying of immigrant and children of immigrant children in schools is generated by a lack of understanding and acceptance for differences and can be combated in multiple ways. On a societal level, the removal these harmful stigmas and stereotypes will alleviate some of the pressure felt by immigrant students to fit into a particular mold. Within schools, however, strong relationships teacher or other staff members and immigrant students has been shown to have positive effects on breaking these stereotypes of students held by teachers and other students as more individualized understanding of the students needs and strengths are uncovered (Peguero and Bondy 2011).

Treating these bullying incidents as bias incidents is another way in which schools can work to decrease bullying. This puts more importance and stress on the reasoning behind the bullying by recognizing that the student is being attacked for their ethnicity and race- something they cannot change about themselves. Restorative justice approaches to dealing with bullying are frequently successful. This method stresses that an understanding of why the act was harmful and holding the perpetrator accountable for their actions. (BRYCS 2014).

Restorative justice model (Wachtel and McCold 2003)

Restorative justice model (Wachtel and McCold 2003)

Engaging students in more culturally diverse lessons will also help broaden the opinions of students and help them understand their peers (Warikoo and Carter 2009). Along the lines of looking at these students for their individual assets specific to their cultures and backgrounds, counseling and advice given to these students should promote these characteristics, like utilizing strong family connections, bilingualism and code switching abilities when helping students adjust in schools. By promoting these different cultural assets, bullied students feel increased levels of confidence and their peers are able to see that these characteristics, while they are different, are positive (Villalba 2007).

References Cited

Bridging Refugee Youth & Children’s Services. 2014. Refugee Children in U.S. Schools: A Toolkit for Teachers and School Personnel (Grant No. 90 RB 0022). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health Services.

Calderón, Margarita, Robert Slavin, and Marta Sánchez. 2011. “Effective Instruction for English Learners.” The Future of Children 21(1): 103-127.

Crosnoe, Robert and Ruth N. López Turley. 2011. “K-12 Educational Outcomes of Immigrant Youth.” The Future of Children 21(1):129-152.

Kao, Grace, Elizabeth Vaquera and Kimberly Goyette. 2013. Education and Immigration. Malden, MA: Policy Press.

Keene, Douglas L. and Rita R. Handrich. 2012. “Talkin’ ‘bout our Generation: Are We Who We Wanted to Be?” The Jury Expert. 24(1): 1-18.

National Center for Education Statistics 2014. Racial/Ethnic Enrollment in Public Schools. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.

Peguero, Anthony A. and Jennifer M. Bondy. 2011. “Immigration and Students’ Relationship with Teachers.” Education and Urban Society 43(2): 165-183.

Peguero, Anthony A. 2009. “Victimizing the Children of Immigrants: Latino and Asian American Student Victimization/” Youth & Society 41(2): 186-208.

Pumariega, Andres J. and Eugenio Rothe. 2010. “Leaving No Children or Families Outside: The Challenges of Immigration.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 80(4): 505- 515.

Scherr, Tracey, G. and Jim Larson. 2010 “Bullying Dynamics Associated with Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration Status.” Pp. 223-234 in Handbook of Bullying in Schools, edited by S.R. Jimerson, S.M. Swearer and D.L. Espelage. New York: Routledge.

Wachtel, Ted and Paul McCold. 2003. “In Pursuit of Paradigm: A Theory of Restorative Justice” International Insititute for Restorative Practices. 1-3.

Warikoo, Natasha and Prudence Carter. 2009. Cultural Explanations for Racial Ethnic Stratification in Academic Achievement: A Call for a New and Improved Theory. Review of Educational Research. 79(1): 366-394.

Villalba, Jose A. Jr. 2007. “Culture-specific Assets to consider when counseling Latina/o Children and Adolescents.” Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development. 35(1): 15-25.

Yu, Stella M., Zhihian J. Huang, Renee H. Schwalberg, Mary Overpeck and Michael D. Kogan. 2003. “Acculturation and the health and well-being of U.S. Immigrant Adolescents.” Journal of Adolescent Health 33(9): 479-488.





Crossing as a Way of Life

With over ten million immigrants, California has the largest population of immigrants in the U.S. according the U.S. Census Bureau. This provides the state with a large multinational culture. The culture of immigrants interacts with that of the American mainstream. Within that framework there is a unique subgroup of dual Mexican-American citizens who actually reside in Mexico and have a 35 minute commute across the border from Tijuana to the San Diego area by way of the San Ysidro Port of Entry to participate in the advantages that U.S. society offers. These people are known as transfronterizos, which means cross-border in Spanish. Transfronterizos have the unique perspective of traversing two completely different cultures almost daily. This juxtaposition of two separate cultures gives exposure to conflicting ideologies and identities, and as a result, transfronterizos build their identity on something in the middle: for them that is the border (Relano Pastor 2007).

Transfronterizos may choose to reside in Mexico because of the cheaper cost of living, or for familial purpose among other reasons.  They may regularly cross the border for health care benefits, business, school, to visit family, and to see friends. They make up a significant portion of over 50,000 cars and 25,000 pedestrians that cross the border going northbound every day. The experiences of transfronterizos are not atypical in our day and age, as more and more immigrants are choosing to live and raise their children in a more transnational lifestyle; “Once a migration is firmly established, child-rearing is a transnational process. This means that in research on the second generation, we cannot assume that adults who have immigrated and settled in the United State will have children born and reared in the United States only.” (Fouron and Glick-Schiller 2002:177). People with such a lifestyle may be known as transmigrants (Fouron and Glick-Schiller 2002). The narrative of transfronterizos, however is an extreme case of this, as they are usually citizens of both countries, by virtue of having at least one parent having citizenship in each country, and they cross international borders almost daily.

The U.S.-Mexico border cuts across part of the ocean near Tijuana and San Diego as well.

There is no accurate recent study on the number of transfronterizo students who cross from Tijuana to San Diego because many students claim to live in the U.S. with relatives in order to be eligible to attend U.S. schools. Students offer the most interesting perspective within the transfronterizo group, because they are still in the process of creating their own identity in relation to two completely different countries and cultures. They may live in Mexico, and interact with American teenage youth as they socialize and attend school, but they don’t identify wholly with American or Mexican culture.

Tranfronterizos are citizens of both the U.S. and Mexico and must form their identity with that in mind.

With many second generation Mexican-Americans it is often the case that their Spanish is not as advanced as that of Mexican natives, and they may not have a vast knowledge of their Mexican heritage. Instead, what many Mexican-Americans choose to ascribe to is something uniquely Mexican-American; “…[S]ome third-generation Mexican students are attracted to an oppositional subculture because they perceive a limited horizon of opportunity for themselves; they take on what has been described as a “Cholo” or “Chicano” identity and derogate the children from immigrant families for their diligence and ambition,” (Alba and Nee 2003:243). This is a form of contention for transfronterizos, who may share similarities with second generation Mexican-Americans, however they do not identify in similar ways; “Transfronterizos refuse to be ascribed a cholo identity because, in their opinion, cholos are born in the U.S. They are not true Mexicans.” (Relano Pastor 2007:270). Essentially, because transfronterizos live in Mexico and “cholos” don’t, they don’t identify as “cholos”.

During their time in U.S. schools, transfronterizos begin to build their identities relative to how they see themselves compared to others, as is seen in comparison with Mexican-Americans; “But as young people mature they develop multiple, overlapping, and simultaneous identities and deploy them in relation to events they experience at home, at school, at work, in the country of their birth, and in the country of their ancestry.” (Fouron and Glick-Schiller 2002:176). There are a host of experiences that are unique to transfronterizos, which provide them the background to build their view of themselves and their identity. Language is an integral part of identity formation, and this is no different for transfronterizos; “Just as language and identity are interwoven, so are culture and identity.” (Calderón, Slavin, and Sánchez 2011:111). Bilingualism and the ways in which transfronterizos speak and interact with others is an important and influential part of their experience. They may speak Spanish differently because of their time in the U.S., and as a result they are teased by Mexicans back home.  They may also feel closer to their Mexican heritage, but feel disconnected because of their time in U.S. schools. At the same time, their English may be accented, and they may feel embarrassed of this with their peers in California. This creates another disconnect with mainstream American culture, which must be difficult due to the significant amount of time they spend in the U.S.

Due to their significant time in both the U.S. and Mexico, transfronterizos must build their identity with both countries and cultures in mind.

Transfronterizos identify within a specific subgroup of Mexican and American life, and therefore do not fully identify with either, yet they have access to both cultures; “Data from the interviews suggest that transfronterizo students craft their identity across two worlds that are fluid and interchangeable due to the continuous border-crossing experiences.” (Relano Pastor 2007:274). The lives that transfronterizos in San Diego/Tijuana live serve as an important example of study; as the world becomes more connected, this may become increasingly more commonplace. “Even though some of the connections we now call transnational were present in earlier time, the ability of today’s migrants to sustain transnational connections is unprecedented.” (Kasinitz et al, :99). The example of transfronterizos, and their ability to  experience life in two different cultures serves to give insight into how today’s migrants have the ability to form their identities from transnational experiences; “We found some evidence that young people’s opinions were linked to their relationships within transnational social fields.” (Fouron and Glick-Schiller 2011:192).

The border looms in the mind of many immigrants as a reminder of the divide that exists between their native country and their current home. This barrier can be a reminder of their family left behind, and the hardships that are associated with leaving one’s own country and adjusting to life in a new country. For transfronterizos this barrier is a part of daily life. They may cross it in order to visit family, seek health care, go to school, go to work, or hang out with friends. Crossing is a way of life for them. It is part of how they identify; that is one of the things that makes them unique.

The San Ysidro Port of Entry allows crossing from US to Mexico near Tijuana.


Works Cited

Alba, Richard and Victor Nee. 2003. Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and Contemporary Immigration. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Calderón, Margarita, Robert Slavin, and Marta Sánchez. 2011. “Effective Instruction for English Learners.” The Future of Children 21(1): 103-127.

Fouron, Georges E. and Nina Glick-Schiller. 2002. “The Generation of Identity: Redefining the Second Generation within a Transnational Social Field.” Pp. 168-210 in The Changing Face of Home: The Transnational Lives of the Second Generation, edited by P. Levitt and M.C. Waters. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Isacson, Adam. 2013.  “A Big Shift in Migration, and the Importance of Search and Rescue”.  Washington Office on Latin America. Washington DC.  Retrieved 28 October 2014 (

Kasinitz, Philip, John Mollenkopf, Mary C Waters, and Merih Anih. 2002. “Transnationalism and the Children of Immigrants in Contemporary New York.” Pp. 96-122 in The Changing Face of Home: The Transnational Lives of the Second Generation, edited by P. Levitt and M.C. Waters. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Relano Pastor, Ana Maria. 2007. “On Border Identities: Transfronterizo Students in San Diego”. Diskurs Kindheits- und Jugendforschung 2 (3): 263-277.

Unaccompanied Child Migrants: Separating Fact and Fiction


During the summer of 2014, the American public was inundated with the news of a crisis at the southern border. An unprecedented number of unaccompanied Central American youth had been crossing into the United States, many surrendering themselves to border patrol agents immediately upon arrival. Pundits and politicians were quick to judge the crisis as another manifestation of a broken immigration system, exacerbated by an inept or malicious presidential administration that was systemically failing to enforce the law. Amid the storm of partisan squabbling and heated rhetoric, countless images emerged documenting the plight of unaccompanied minors, from their arduous journey to the United States to the inhumane conditions they encountered at detention centers after their arrival. The experiences of these children have been heavily politicized and distorted, shrouded in misinformation and prejudice. In order to fully understand the crisis of unaccompanied minors and its underlying causes, one must separate the facts from misinformation.

Where are Unaccompanied Minors Coming From?

Border Apprehensions

Unaccompanied child migrants apprehended at the U.S. Border. Source: Lind, 2014

While the migration of unaccompanied minors to the U.S. has been occurring for decades, the stream of child migrants has been increasing since 2011 (Lind, 2014). One point of much confusion during this influx has been the country or region from which these children originate. The vast majority of unaccompanied minors who have migrated to the U.S. over the past several years have originated from three Central American countries; Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras (Tobia, 2014). On the surface, this may seem like a superficial detail. However, the country from which immigrants to the U.S. originates is intimately related to the motivations for migration (Rumbaut and Portes, 2001). The unaccompanied minors that have come in incredibly large numbers to the U.S. over the past few years are largely motivated by concerns regarding safety and security.

Why are Unaccompanied Minors Migrating?

Murder Rates

High levels of violence compel many children to migrate. Source: Resnick, 2014)

The three countries where most unaccompanied child migrants originate, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, have some of the highest murder rates in the entire world (Tobia, 2014). This extreme violence is fueled by gangs and drug cartels, who target children for recruitment at very young ages (Resnick, 2014). Unaccompanied child migrants regularly cite instances of extreme violence in their home countries as the primary reason for their exodus. A report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (2014) found that 58% of a sample of unaccompanied migrants were forcibly displaced by violence and potentially qualified for international protection. The acts of violence directed towards children are largely utilized as a means of intimidation, forcing children into working for the gangs and cartels. Rape, murder, and dismemberment are all used as tools for recruitment, forcing children to choose between a brutal death at the hands of the gangs or the high risk of death by the police as a member of the cartel (Voorhees, 2014). Faced with this impossible decision, many children make the difficult decision to migrate in the hopes of a more secure future.

Aside from the flight from violence, there are a number of reasons child migrants make their unaccompanied journeys to the United States. Unaccompanied child migrants express hope for educational and occupational opportunity, and for reunification with family who have already migrated to America (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 2014). However, for the surge of child migrants between 2011 and 2014, these hopes are less urgent than their intentions to escape gang violence.

To where are the Unaccompanied Minors Migrating?

UAC Migration to Other Countries

The U.S. is not the only country experiencing an increase in unaccompanied child migrants. Source: Lind, 2014

One of the great fallacies of the discussion surrounding the crisis of unaccompanied child migrants during the summer of 2014 was the erroneous assumption that U.S. was the only destination for these minors. If unaccompanied children were migrating specifically to the U.S., it would logically follow that there must be some factor or factors attracting children to the U.S., in addition to the factors pushing them away from their home countries. This assumption was central to the arguments made by many conservative politicians and pundits, who contended that the lax enforcement of immigration laws by the Obama administration, from deferred action policies to border security, have enticed child migrants to make the dangerous trek on their own (Tobia, 2014). In reality, unaccompanied child migrants from Central America are seeking asylum in nations throughout the region (Lind, 2014). If, as conservatives have argued, child migrants are drawn to America due to the Obama administration’s severely broken immigration policies, we would not expect to see other countries experiencing a similar surge in unaccompanied child migrants. Their argument if further discredited by the U.N. survey data from a sample of Central American child migrants, in which only 2% of the unaccompanied minors mentioned anything about U.S. immigration policy (Resnick, 2014). Finally, it is important to note that, contrary to conservatives’ contentions, the Obama administration’s immigration policy has included unprecedented numbers of deportations and a drastic increase in spending on border security (Washington Office on Latin America, 2014).

What happens to Unaccompanied Child Migrants after their Arrival in the U.S.?

Detention Facilities

Detention facilities for unaccompanied child migrants often lack the educational, healthcare, and legal resources these children require. Source: Tobia, 2014

For several decades, the detention centers that house unaccompanied child migrants awaiting deportation or asylum hearings from the U.S. have had a history of inhumane conditions, severely lacking the educational, healthcare, and legal resources so desperately needed by these children (Navarro, 1998). The scarce availability of legal counsel is particularly devastating for these vulnerable groups of children, as it is virtually impossible for an unaccompanied child with limited English language proficiency to navigate the complexities of U.S. immigration law. Unaccompanied minors may be eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status, a form of legal residency granted to a child migrants who can prove he or she is a victim of neglect, abuse, or abandonment, or that deportation to their home country would be significantly detrimental to the child’s best interest (Lloyd, 2005). However, because of the law’s ambiguity, it can be incredibly difficult to establish neglect, abuse, or abandonment, or what constitutes a significant breach in the child’s best interest. For these reasons, SIJ status is difficult to attain. Finally, researchers have found that the deportation of undocumented immigrants with familial ties in America can lead to a circular migration, in which the migrants will attempt to return to America (Hagan, Eschbach, and Rodriguez 2008). It is not difficult to imagine that unaccompanied minors with family in the U.S., or children who were compelled to migrate due to excessive levels of violence in their home countries, could attempt to migrate again. Until the root causes for unaccompanied migration are ameliorated, most prominently the extreme levels of violence experienced in Central American countries fueled by gangs and drug cartels, child migrants will continue to make the unaccompanied journey to secure their personal safety.


Hagan, Jacqueline, Karl Eschbach, and Nestor Rodriguez. 2008. “U.S. Deportation Policy, Family Separation, and Circular Migration.” International Migration Review 42(1):64-88.

Lind, Dara. 2014. “14 facts that help explain America’s child migrant crisis” Vox, July 29. Retrieved December 15, 2014 (

Lloyd, Angela. 2005. “Regulating Consent: Protecting Undocumented Immigrant Children from their (Evil) Step-Uncle Sam, or How to Ameliorate the Impact of the 1997 Amendments to the SIJ law.” Public Interest Law Journal 15:237-261.

Navarro, Lisa Rodriquez. 1998. “An Analysis of Treatment of Unaccompanied Immigrant and Refugee Children in INS Detention and Other Forms of Institutionalized Custody.” Chicano-Latino Law Review 19:589-612.

Resnick, Brian. 2014. “Why 90,000 Children Flooding Our Border Is Not an Immigration Story”. National Journal, June 16. Retrieved December 15, 2014 (

Rumbaut, Ruben and Alejandro Portes, eds. 2001. Ethnicities: Children of immigrants in America. University of California Press.

Tobia, P. J. 2014. “No country for lost kids” PBS Newshour, June 20. Retrieved December 15, 2014 (

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. 2014. Children on the Run. Washington, D.C. Retrieved December 15, 2014 (

Voorhees, Josh. 2014. “What Immigration Crisis?” Slate, August 20. Retrieved December 15, 2014 (

Washington Office on Latin America. 2014. “Three Myths about Central American Migration to the United States” June 17. Retrieved December 15, 2014 (

Why You Should Care About LGBTQ Immigrant Children

From the outrage at the Sochi Olympics over Putin’s “propaganda” law to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, it’s clear that strong anti-LGBTQ climates exist globally. But few Americans realize how many countries still oppress gay rights: the BBC estimates there are about 77 countries that currently have anti-LGBTQ laws in place (BBC 2014).

Figure 1. Where is it illegal to be gay? Source: BBC (2014)

Figure 1. Where is it illegal to be gay? Source: BBC (2014)

As a result of hostile climates in home nations, many LGBTQ adult and child immigrants seek political asylum in the United States. LGBTQ children may not just be fleeing oppressive laws, but also escaping families or communities that shun them for their sexual orientation. They are disproportionately represented among the unaccompanied minor population, making up 19% of immigrant children in foster care and 12-15% in the juvenile justice system (Gruberg and Hussey 2014:2). But flaws within the U.S. immigration system have major effects on LGBTQ child immigrants, who often fall between the cracks of immigration services and systems. The major issues they encounter include: higher levels of abuse in detention centers; increased harassment in shelters by authorities and peers; and greater problems proving eligibility for asylum.

Figure 2. The LGBT Undocumented by the Numbers . Source: Center for American Progress and the Williams Institute (2013)

Figure 2. The LGBT Undocumented by the Numbers. (Click for full resolution.) Source: Center for American Progress and the Williams Institute (2013)

267,000 adult LGBTQ undocumented immigrants live in United States today; that number likely skyrockets when youth are included (Gates 2013: 1). Because they were considered “sexually deviant” under older laws, openly LGBTQ immigrants were excluded from coming to the US until the 1990s, when the Immigration Act of 1990 opened the path for a larger immigrant flow to the United States.

If LGBTQ immigrants apply for political asylum as a defense against deportation, they are almost always placed into detention centers until their cases are settled. Both children and adults can be placed in detention, though children are more often placed in foster or shelter care. Detention centers have notorious history of “housing immigrant minors in disgraceful conditions without access to education, health care, legal services, or other basic necessities” (Navarro 1998: 590). Conditions for LGBTQ child immigrants are even worse, since they suffer greater verbal and sexual abuse: LGBTQ adult detainees are about fifteen times as likely to be sexually abused as heterosexual detainees (Gruberg 2013:1). Though there is little data on LGBTQ children in detention, they likely face similarly high abuse, and detained children have reported incidents of sexual assault by other detainees and guards (Navarro 1998:600). LGBTQ youth have also reported being “punished for behaviors that their heterosexual counterparts engage in without repercussion…are encouraged to “change” their sexual orientation or gender identity; and are prevented from or disciplined for expressing their gender identity” (Gruberg and Hussey 2014: 2-3). Transgender child immigrants may face authorities who ignore their gender identities and detain them with their non-identifying sex (Gruberg 2013:4).

Detention centers have also historically “restricted immigrants’ access to healthcare” (Androff et. al 2011:89). These restrictions especially affect LGBTQ child immigrants since they may have specific medical needs, foremost among them mental health care. Because they are refugees fleeing violence, many of the children suffer psychological damage such as PTSD – but still, “access to psychiatric care is a frequently cited problem at INS detention facilities” (Navarro 2011:602). LGBTQ children may also need access to medicine such as HIV/AIDS medication or hormone therapy. If basic medical needs are hard to access in detention centers, obtaining specialized medical care will be difficult.

LGBTQ unaccompanied minors who do not go to detention centers often go to shelters (80%) or foster care (11%) (Byrne and Miller 2012:15). While conditions there are less restrictive than detention, 70% of LGBTQ youth in shelters report violence against them and 100% report verbal harassment based on their sexual orientation (Gruberg and Hussey 2014: 2). Institutional policies towards LGBTQ youth are inconsistent, especially because Christian-affiliated institutions – whose agendas range from all-inclusive policies to conservative views – run just over a third of homes for unaccompanied minors (Gruberg and Hussey 2014:5). Many crimes in shelters go unreported because “undocumented immigrants are significantly less likely to report being victimized” (Androff et al. 2011:89). Additionally, shelters have no standard grievance reporting process, making it difficult for LGBTQ youth to file complaints (Gruberg and Hussey 2014:5).

Figure 4. Protections for LGBT youth in the juvenile justice system. Source: Center for American Progress (2014)

Figure 3. Protections for LGBT youth in the juvenile justice system. Source: Center for American Progress (2014)

Figure 4. Protections for LGBT youth in the foster care system. Source: Center for American Progress (2014)

Figure 4. Protections for LGBT youth in the foster care system. Source: Center for American Progress (2014)

Figure 5. Unaccompanied minor program providers' religious affiliations. Source: Center for American Progress (2014)

Figure 5. Unaccompanied minor program providers’ religious affiliations. Source: Center for American Progress (2014)

LGBTQ youth encounter more difficulties when applying for political asylum, a legal process that allows refugee immigrants to stay in the United States. Minors may also apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status if they “are found to be dependent upon a state juvenile court and…return to their home country is contrary to their best interests” (Lloyd 2005:238).

For any unaccompanied minor, the process of applying for asylum or SIJ status is difficult: immigration law falls under federal-level rule, but juvenile law falls under state-level jurisdiction, leading to friction between the federal and state courts. As a result, federal courts often have to handle children’s issues, for which they are untrained (Lloyd 2005).An initial obstacle lies in access to legal counsel: in detention centers, children have been “afforded little access to legal assistance, telephones, or other means to prepare their legal cases” (Navarro 1998:600). For example, detention authorities have limited children’s contact with lawyers, or have monitored calls (Navarro 1998:600). Immigration officers are also ill-equipped to handle children’s psychological needs, and so “many child victims of abuse and abandonment were retraumatized in immigration interviews in which untrained immigration officers asked child victims for details of their abuse and abandonment” (Lloyd 2005:246). Finally, children’s cases can bring up special difficulties. Generational issues may lead to miscommunication; children may view “fear of persecution” on a different basis than adults; they may forget specific details due to age; they may be intimidated by the court setting; or they may suffer from such trauma that they have trouble reliving their experiences in a public setting (Bhabha and Schmidt 2006:121-122). Therefore, cases become dependent on the presiding judge’s policies, and the asylum decision becomes a nearly arbitrary process because it lacks regulation.

LGBTQ youth face more challenges because to prove asylum, they must not just prove persecution, but also prove that they identify as LGBTQ. Because their identification is not marked by a physical trait as with age or race, proving non-heterosexuality becomes a messy process. Judges may be further skeptical about the ability of LGBTQ minors to identify as LGBTQ, given their age. Again, a lack of guidelines for LGBTQ youth complicates the asylum process.

Finding asylum in the United States is a trying experience for all immigrants, especially for refugees fleeing dangerous home environments. LGBTQ unaccompanied minors fall at an especially high risk for abuse and neglect but are often overlooked, which is why they need specific guidelines and services that cater to their needs. Many of the crucial changes will not occur until the US fixes some overarching problems in its immigration system: providing detention center and shelter accountability, sufficient resources for detainees, and legal guidelines on a federal and state level for child immigrants, with a clear policy establishing that “children are children first and potential immigrants second” (Lloyd 2005:261). The United States needs to follow more just and humane policies, not the broken, underequipped system it currently operates (Androff 2011:93). And until this country shows that it cares about all its immigrant populations, including LGBTQ children, it cannot call itself a nation with any justice.



Androff, David K, Cecilia Ayón, David Becerra, Maria Gurrola, Lorraine Salas, Judy Krysik, Karen Gerdes, and Elizabeth Segal. 2011. “U.S. Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s Well-being: The Impact of Policy Shifts.” Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 38(1): 77-98.

BBC News. 2014. “Where is it illegal to be gay?” Published February 10. Retrieved October 22, 2014. (

Bhabha, Jacqueline and Susan Schmidt. 2006. “Seeking Asylum Alone: Unaccompanied and Separated Children and Refugee Protection in the U.S.” Cambridge, MA: University Committee on Human Rights Studies, Harvard University. Retrieved November 14, 2014. (

Byrne, Olga and Elise Miller. 2012. “The Flow of Unaccompanied Children Through the Immigration System: A Resource for Practitioners, Policy Makers, and Researchers.” New York: Vera Institute of Justice. Retrieved November 14, 2014 (

Gates, Gary J. 2013. “LGBT Adult Immigrants in the United States”. The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. Retrieved October 22, 2014. (

Gruberg, Sharita. 2013.“Dignity Denied: LGBT Immigrants in U.S. Immigration Detention”. Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress. Retrieved October 21, 2014. (

Gruberg, Sharita and Hannah Hussey. 2014. “Fostering Safety: How the U.S. Government Can Protect LGBT Immigrant Children”. Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress. Retrieved October 21, 2014. (

Lloyd, Angela. 2005. “Regulating Consent: Protecting Undocumented Immigrant Children From Their (Evil) Step-Uncle Sam, or How to Ameliorate the Impact of the 1997 Amendments to the SIJ Law”. Public Interest Law Journal. 15: 237-261.

Navarro, Lisa Rodriquez. 1998. “An Analysis of Treatment of Unaccompanied Immigrant and Refugee Children in INS Detention and other forms of Institutionalized Custody.” Chicano-Latino Law Review. 19:589-612.



English Language Learners in the Elementary Classroom

Background Information on contemporary education and English Language Learners

From 2007-2008, there were 5.3 million English Language Learners (ELL) in the U.S. K-12 public school system, which constituted 10.6 percent of the total student population (Calderón, Slavin, and Sanchez 2011:103). Nonetheless, according to the National Center for Education Statistics Survey (NCES) of 1997, only 29.5 percent of teachers, including ELL specific instructors, reported having had any type of training on how to instruct ELLs (Hite and Evans 2006:89). Although the percentage of teachers may have increased since the NCES 1997 survey, there are currently no federal level policies for states to follow in structuring efficient ELL instruction (Calderón et al. 2011:104). Notably, ELLs have significantly lower academic performance and educational attainment rates than native white students (Calderón et al. 2011:104). In addition, 80 percent of second generation immigrant children labeled as long-term English learners at the elementary level continue to be categorized as having limited English language ability at the secondary level (Calderón et al. 2011:104). Both of these statistics suggest that teachers lack adequate training for working with this student population.

In order to provide a foundation for diverse stakeholders dedicated to educational equity, this guide is organized around the following core elements of effective ELL instruction at the elementary (K-5) level:

  • Promotion of English language fluency
  • Facilitation of content area learning
  • Appreciation of student identity     

Promotion of English Language Fluency

Current state of ELL instruction

Many school districts follow the practice of pulling ELLs out of their mainstream classroom once a day for a period of specialized English language instruction. For the rest of their school day, ELLs are expected to learn within a “mainstream” English monolingual, classroom setting. Unfortunately, this “pullout” approach causes many teachers to view ELL differentiated instruction as outside of their professional domain (Calderón, et al. 2011). Because many elementary ELLs spend the majority of their time within the mainstream classroom setting, it is integral that all teachers understand how to promote English language development. As highlighted in the statistical overview, contemporary approaches towards English language development have been unsuccessful. It is imperative to view English language acquisition, or the path towards fluency, as an ongoing, long-term process. The English language acquisition continuum perspective promotes the implementation of lessons and accommodations that are in accordance with ELLs’ language stages.

Reorienting ELL instruction towards the language acquisition continuum

Exemplifying how an elementary study on photosynthesis can be differentiated for the diverse needs of ELLs within a mainstream classroom, Piper and Shaw (2011) focus on five progressive stages of language development. Figure 1 from Piper and Shaw’s (2011) work provides an overview of these five stages. This is a practical application of differentiated photosynthesis lesson activities and communicative devices that ELLs should be given and expected to produce in the course of study depending on their language acquisition stage. For example, Figure 1 shows that an ELL student in the initial “Pre-Production Stage” should work to explain unit information via drawings, symbols, or a few words in the English language. By the “Speech Emergence Stage,” ELLs should be encouraged to express their understanding of content material via short sentences in English.

Figure 1. English Language Learner fluency level in accordance with lesson design and differentiation in an elementary science unit on photosynthesis

Figure 1. English Language Learner fluency level in accordance with lesson design and differentiation in an elementary science unit on photosynthesis
Source: Piper and Shaw (2010)









Specific strategies that promote English language development

The English language acquisition continuum is valuable for designing lessons that meet the varying language levels and needs of ELLs. In addition, there are overarching strategies that teachers can use in the ongoing, long-term process of working towards English language fluency.

1. Teacher speech delivery as performance

Figure 2. Illustration of teacher dramatically acting out her oral presentation of a story through gesticulation and the visual aid of puppets Source:  Gaab (2012), Language Magazine

Figure 2. Illustration of teacher dramatically acting out her oral presentation of a story through gesticulation and the visual aid of puppets
Source: Gaab (2012), Language Magazine

Teachers promote English language acquisition and whole-class engagement by delivering instructions and information in a performance style, dramatized manner. ELL English comprehension skills are supported when teachers utilize gestures, emotion, and facial expressions while speaking clearly and at a relatively slow pace. Moreover, depending on the English development stage of ELLs, teachers should avoid the use of potentially confusing and unnecessary idiomatic phrases. Visual supports, demonstrations, and physical objects are also incredibly helpful for helping ELLs comprehend teacher instruction and gain English language proficiency (Armon and Morris 2008). Teachers should also work to incorporate target, content area vocabulary into their whole-class speeches (Hansen 2006; Piper and Shaw 2010). Please note that the word usage, pace, and extent of dramatization in teacher speech should be structured in accordance with ELLs’ English language developmental stage.

2. Small group work

Figure 3. Example of elementary students participating in small-group inquiry, play-like projects.  Source: Source: Vasquez (2009), The University of Texas-Pan American

Figure 3. Example of elementary students participating in small-group inquiry, play-like projects.
Source: Source: Vasquez (2009), The University of Texas-Pan American

Classroom teachers can also promote language acquisition by pairing ELLs and English-only peers together. Hansen (2006) hones in on how inquiry-based activities promote social exchange that mirrors play. Authentic, socially based English language tasks are integral for learning a new language (Hite and Evans 2006). Small group work allows ELLs to practice English in a setting that is less nerve-racking than whole-class discussions (Calderón et al. 2011).

Facilitation of Content Area Learning 

Diverse learning backgrounds and needs of ELLs

Mainstream classroom elementary teachers are also responsible for providing ELLs with accessible instruction in the content areas, such as math, science, social studies, and the language arts. In order to facilitate content area learning, it is essential that teachers understand that the U.S. ELL population is composed of students with widely varying literacy levels and academic knowledge in their first language (Calderón et al. 2011; Crosnoe and Turley 2011; Lenski et al. 2006). It is also important to consider how both “human capital immigrants” and “traditional labor migrants” (Alba and Nee 2003:230) are involved in contemporary immigration. Human capital immigrants have advanced educational degrees in their country of origin and professional skills, while traditional labor migrants have little to no formal education (Alba and Nee 2003:230). Therefore, the families and communities that ELLs belong to will determine the resources and breadth of knowledge that ELLs bring to their respective classrooms. Seeking to inform educators working with the heterogeneous ELL population, Lenski et al. (2006) underscore how teachers should strive to understand the educational and linguistic backgrounds that students possess. Figure 4 from the work of Lenski et al. (2006) provides a guide based on four possible categories to which an ELL student may belong. For example, Figure 4 shows that some ELLs may enter the classroom with grade-level literacy skills in their first language, while other ELLs may have had limited formal education and lack literacy skills in their first language. Figure 4 also highlights how ELLs may have transnational ties to both the U.S. and their personal, or familial, country of origin. Transnational status may contribute to literacy in Language 1 and Language 2, or in some cases, a lack of literacy in either Language 1 or Language 2.

 Figure 4. English Language Learner profiles in consideration of literacy skills, language proficiencies, academic backgrounds. Source: Source: Lenski et al. (2006)

Figure 4. English Language Learner profiles in consideration of literacy skills, language proficiencies, academic backgrounds.
Source: Lenski et al. (2006)

While Figure 4 offers helpful considerations, it should only be used as a preliminary resource because individual ELLs may have experiences that belong to each of the four learning profiles.    




Specific Strategies that promote content area learning

1. Trade Books and Pre-Lesson Conferences

In order to help orient an ELL student to a new unit study, elementary teachers can use simple picture books to introduce content area vocabulary and essential learning themes (Armon and Morris 2008:50). ELLs may benefit from individual-student conferences before a unit study, in which a picture book featuring core content is collectively read and processed through drawings, diagrams, and language appropriate conversations.

2. Language Buddies 

An additional strategy is to pair an ELL student with a classmate who is proficient in both English and the ELL’s first language (Hite and Evans 2006:101). Prior to implementing the Language Buddy system, it is important to establish a collaborative classroom community. Teachers should initiate role-play exercises on how students can productively act as mentors and learning partners (Hite and Evans 2006:101).

3. Alternative Assessments

  • If ELLs have the literacy skills, they can write explanations of academic content in their first language in order to think deeply about content without a language barrier (Hite and Evans 2006:104). Then, ELLs can communicate key points expressed in their first language composition through pictures, diagrams, words, phrases, or short sentences. Expectations for ELLs’ “translation” of their first language composition should be based upon their current stage in the English language acquisition continuum.
  • Informal observations of the ideas ELLs put forth in group-based projects (Armon and Morris 2008).
  • Instruction on portraying content area knowledge via pictorial expression (Armon and Morris 2008). And, for student assessments, encourage integration of art and writing.
  • Incorporation of journals into unit studies. Journals allow teachers to evaluate the growth of a student in both English language acquisition and content learning over time (Armon and Morris 2008).
Figure 4. Example of an elementary, student journal that integrates art and writing during a unit study on plant growth.  Source: Ansiel, Annenberg Learner Science Notebooking

Figure 4. Example of an elementary, student journal that integrates art and writing during a unit study on plant growth.
Source: Ansiel, Annenberg Learner Science Notebooking








Appreciation of Student Identity

Kao, Vaquera, and Goyette (2011) highlight how U.S. school policies and curriculum often “devalue” (135) and “marginalize” (134) the home cultures of many student populations, including immigrant and second-generation children. Language and identity are inextricably linked. Effective instruction for ELLs entails fostering a classroom community in which all students learn about each other’s cultural and linguistic backgrounds. First steps in this process include teaching texts that mirror ELLs’ backgrounds, working towards filling the school library with bilingual books, encouraging ELLs to use their first language as a learning strategy for processing challenging tasks, and crafting projects that capitalize on ELLs existing academic and sociocultural knowledge.

Final Thoughts

Educators who view teaching as a performance, promote student partnerships, integrate multimodal expression, unpack educational policy, and learn about every student as an individual learner and person are not merely working towards effective instruction for ELLs. They are creating a classroom that is inclusive for all types of learners.

Figure 6. Illustration of inclusive education Source: National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) (2014) Source: National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) (2014)

Figure 6. Illustration of inclusive education
Source: National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) (2014)


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No Place to Call Home: The DREAM Act and what it would do for the 1.5 generation and the U.S

Each year in the United States, there are approximately 65,000 high school students who graduate and receive their diplomas, but find their options for their futures curtailed severely. Any aspirations these students may have to attend a four-year university, join the military, or find work are short lived the when reality sets in that these are not accessible to them. To any onlooker or researcher examining demographic data, the majority of these students are culturally American and indistinguishable from their peers. The U.S is their home.

These are the statistics and description given by the Immigration Policy Center regarding undocumented members of the “1.5 generation,” first generation immigrant children brought to the U.S at such a young age that they have been raised almost exclusively in the U.S (American Immigration Council 2011). For many students of this demographic, they are often just discovering their undocumented status as they attempt to fill out applications. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Plyler v. Doe, guaranteeing free and public K-12 education to all students, citizen or undocumented (Drachman 2006:91). By contrast, access to post-secondary education has several times been restricted at the national level.

IIRIRA and the Origins of DREAM

In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), a piece of legislation intended make immigration laws and regulations stronger and more efficient. Section 505 of this act is particularly important in regard to these aspiring college students. It stipulates that undocumented students living within a state can only be charged the more affordable in-state tuition rates if the state they resided in also allowed for U.S citizens from other states to apply for in-state tuition (Barron 2011). A large portion of undocumented members of the 1.5 generation come from low-income families, as their parents are also undocumented and can only get low-income, unregulated work where employers don’t ask for Social Security numbers or other documentation. This, in combination with the fact that they themselves do not have the paperwork required to complete college applications or apply for work to pay tuition, means these undocumented students are, for the most part, are left without support in  the country they believed was their home. While individual states have passed laws in recent years circumventing residency requirements for in-state tuition application, it is far from being the national norm.


Figure 1 Source: National Association for College Admission Counseling.

In 2001, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, identifying this issue, proposed the first version of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act to Congress. The stated goal of this legislation was to “allow children who have been brought to the United States through no volition of their own the opportunity to fulfill their dreams, to secure a college degree and legal status” (Barron 2011). In order to do this, the DREAM Act would repeal Section 505 of IIRIRA, and provide a path to citizenship for those undocumented members of the 1.5 generation who had arrived in the U.S under a certain age and had been in the U.S for a certain number of years. From 2001 until 2011, the DREAM Act has been proposed, with some variation, each year since, often coming close to but never actually receiving enough votes to pass both parts of Congress. 

What the DREAM Could Have Been

In order to begin the path to citizenship under the 2010 DREAM Act, which became the 2011 DREAM Act with very few parts changed, an undocumented immigrant would have to have entered the U.S prior to age sixteen, and have lived in the U.S continuously for a minimum of five years. Upon completion of high school or a GED program, along with proof of acceptance into a post-secondary institution, they may then apply for “conditional nonimmigrant status.” In order to be approved, the individual’s background check must show a lack of any disqualifying factors (health risk, criminal activity, national security risk, etc.), and must also demonstrate that they are of the “good moral character,” as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (Barron 2011). They retain this status for ten years. Nine years into this period, the individual may begin the application process for the status of “alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence,” which requires having earned either a degree from an institution of higher learning, completion of two years of a Bachelor’s program, or two years in the Armed Forces. After three years of having this status, the immigrant can begin naturalization procedures. Additionally, an individual with either status is allowed to work legally in the U.S, and also has access certain student loan programs and federal work study, but not affirmative grants such as Pell Grants, in order to support their post-secondary endeavors.

Not the Nightmare You Think It Would Be

Who Would Benefit from It

One of the biggest fears, and points of contention, regarding the DREAM Act which has prevented it from passing is the fear that it will somehow take away opportunities, seats, spots, positions, resources, etc. from American citizens and immigrants who are following the existing legal pathways to become citizens. In particular, the idea of rewarding “criminals,” so phrased, has been a major reason for reduced public support for legislation such as the DREAM Act. However, this is line of reasoning negatively generalizes all 1.5 generation students and members, when in fact it is very much a diverse and differentiated group. This generalization and stereotyping also extends to the type of economic impact they may have on the communities they live in, which is again far more complex and varied situation than is often purported.

The majority of the 1.5 generation youth and young adults who would be eligible for the DREAM Act, should it pass, are not undocumented through their own choice, and did leave one home country to exploit the U.S economy before returning. Rather, the U.S is their home country. Andrew Stevenson wrote, in regard to them, that “Because these youths had grown up and attended school in the U.S. since their early childhood, they felt almost no connection to their actual countries of citizenship” (2004:559). He uses the example of a community college student named Victor, who, having arrived here seven years prior with his family on a tourist Visa, has spent his formative years in the U.S, finished in education in the U.S, and even began post-secondary education here. However, because the Visa expires at age 21, his options were suddenly and severely limited. Without a legal visa, he would have to leave school, but also has little hope of being able to afford a new one, as without the documentation, he has no way of paying for new documentation, a crippling, paradoxical situation to say the least.

Victor’s story also serves as a prime example of another distinction that must be made regarding this generalized “immigrants” group. Edward Drachman (2006) in Peace Review writes that “Most undocumented immigrants do sneak across this country’s borders from Mexico or enter with fraudulent documents, but many others come here legally and overstay their visa (98)”. In addition to most being brought to the U.S involuntarily, many of these aspiring college students were admitted into the U.S legally and, for an extended period, were treated the same as legal citizens, at least until their expired visa status was discovered. Hence, for the most part, members of this 1.5 generation who would be eligible for the DREAM Act are not the border-hopping, document forging, “illegals” that has often been represented in public opinion pieces. Rather, they are almost-citizens who have been in the U.S for a large portion of their lives, and intend to stay here, work here, and contribute the same as any other citizen. What prevents this are legalities, not their own choice.

How the U.S Would Benefit from Them

Another of the major arguments against the DREAM Act is that it would place additional burden on tax-payers by forcing them to subsidize the education of undocumented students. From a sociological perspective, increases in this seemingly xenophobic view could be due to economic downturns in recent years. Addressing this argument, Stevenson cites several studies which indicate that “…the tax burden in subsidizing these students’ education may in fact be insignificant” (2004:573). Quite the opposite, immigrants paying taxes substantially adds to local and state tax revenue. In Illinois, Stevenson notes that, despite being confined to low-income jobs, immigrants contribute seventy million in taxes annually, a figure which can only increase should there be more legal, college educated immigrant-citizens created under legislation such as the DREAM Act. Sandy Baum, professor at Skidmore College, and Stella M. Flores corroborate this statement in their piece, writing that immigrants “…who attend college pay higher taxes and are less likely to depend on public support than those who do not. Their increased productivity in the workplace is reflected in more rapid economic growth and higher earnings for their less educated co-workers” (2011:185).


Although the DREAM Act has not been re-proposed since 2011, legislation similar in effect should be enacted within the U.S. To not help these aspiring college students, soldiers, and workers is “to create a discrete permanent underclass continuing to live with an “enduring disability” (Drachman 2006: 94). Making these members of the 1.5 generation would provide numerous benefits to the U.S economically, and would also be a step toward allaying certain stereotyped fears about immigrants, as, in general, college educated students actually draw less on public services and the criminal justice system as well. Passing DREAM-esque legislation and providing a pathway to citizenship for these already almost-citizens is imperative. While certain individual states have enacted the own version of the DREAM Act to aid aspiring college students, only federal action can solve this pressing problem.

Michael Olivas on state-level DREAM Acts and DREAM Act related legislation in the absence of a national DREAM Act 


Barron, Elisha. 2011. “The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.” Harvard Journal on Legislation 48(2): 623-625 (Retrieved from Web of Science on October 25, 2014).

*On Web Science, I was only able to retrieve this source in “article” form, not in the original journal format. As a result, the text was listed continuously on one long page, and I was unable to give page numbers for the in-text citations.

Baum, Sandy and Stella M. Flores. 2011. “Higher Education and Children in Immigrant Families.” Future of Children 21(1): 171-193.

Drachman, Edward. 2006. “Access to Higher Education for Undocumented Students.” Peace Review 18(1): 91-100.

National Association for College Admission Counseling. 2013. “Tuition Equity for Undocumented Students Gains Momentum.” April 10, Arlington, VA. Retrieved December 14, 2014 (

National Immigration Law Center. 2014. “FAQ: DACA.” June 13, Los Angeles, California. Retrieved October 25, 2014 (



Immigration in Poughkeepsie

In the United States, the Hispanic population is one of the fastest growing populations  (immigrant or not), with the majority being Mexican. About 18,000 out of 280, 200 residents who live in New York State’s Dutchess County are Hispanic, which is evident in the community of Poughkeepsie (Valente 2002). The Mid-Hudson Valley has been home to many different immigrant populations, which is apparent when walking down Main Street and observing the diversity of stores and restaurants. Nevertheless, within the past decade or so, a majority of immigrants to the Mid-Hudson Valley have been from Mexico (Valente 2002).

Throughout Poughkeepsie, Hispanic influences within the community are visible in the increasing number of Mexican restaurants, small stores, and the visibility of signs written in Spanish.  In fact, during an immigrant march and rally in 2006, the presence of this large population was felt when a number of stores were not open for business during the day as part of a “Day Without an Immigrant” boycott. It is clear that there is a prominent social network due to the strong ethnic ties that exist within the community. Many Mexican immigrants came to the Hudson Valley for the most common reason – in search of a better job.

In a Poughkeepsie Journal article, William Valente (2002) writes about one immigrant’s experience in Poughkeepsie: Clemencia Arroyo and her two children joined her husband, who had come from Mexico to the U.S. five years before. Similar to many immigrants, the decision to migrate was influenced by the search for a better life and greater educational opportunities for their children.

In terms of assimilation into America, in Valente’s (2002) interview of the Arroyo family, the mother speaks mostly in Spanish, while the children took extra classes in order to learn English and are perfectly fluent. As members of the 1.5-generation immigrant population, they have had an easier time incorporating the American mainstream into their lives. (The 1.5-generation refers to immigrants who came to the United States during or before their teenage years.) Common among immigrant experiences, the younger sibling identifies much more with his American identity, but is happy that the family has held on to their Mexican traditions. In considering the impact of the ethnic network within Poughkeepsie, it seems that it would be a bit easier to hold on to cultural ties. The family realizes that their lives in Poughkeepsie give them an opportunity for greater education, employment opportunities, as well as a better life overall than if they still lived in Mexico.

In Valente’s (2002) article, he provides a reference to English as a Second Language resources that people may contact. It seems that the Mexican and Hispanic population has formed somewhat of an ethnic enclave in Poughkeepsie. The term ethnic enclave  refers to the way immigrants organize in a community where they set up social networks helping fellow immigrants obtain jobs, while still connecting to their ethnicity (Rumbaut and Portes 2001).

The sense of community and ethnic ties are founded in the number of organizations that have been concerned with immigrants’ rights. These organizations have been established to address issues education, health, and poverty, which are common issues among immigrant groups, thus creating more resources for immigrant groups.



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


Valente, William A. 2002. “Valley is gaining a Mexican Flavor: Immigrants Seeking Jobs.” Poughkeepsie Journal, May 5. Retrieved May 10, 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.