By Roxana Parise, Homeless Liaison, Bellingham Public Schools, WA
I was 11 years old the first time I witnessed an immigration raid. My family was living in central California, and we were working in the fields picking blackberries. It was the end of a long work day, and I was excited because my parents promised to stop for ice cream at the Thrifty Drug Store on our way home. All of a sudden someone yelled, “la migra!” Everyone started running. Big white vans came racing down the dirt roads surrounding the fields, and men dressed in green uniforms started chasing people down. My first instinct was to run and hide from this danger, but my parents were yelling at me to stop and stand still. It’s impossible to describe the heart wrenching scene as I witnessed immigration officers tackle men, women, and children to the ground and then drag them to one of the vans. What I remember most was the sound of women crying and children yelling for their parents. For a long time, I had nightmares that I was going to be taken away from my family, never to see them again.
Today, as a homeless liaison, I work with many families who have at least one undocumented member in their family. Due to recent changes in immigration policies, I’m receiving phone calls from parents desperate for advice and guidance. Some families have children in the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a federal program which gives eligible participants a work permit and temporary relief from deportation). Some of them are choosing to become homeless, so the government has no means of tracking them. For that same reason, other families have stopped all DSHS services. I’m receiving reports from teachers that children are having difficulties in the classroom, unable to concentrate, afraid that their parents will be deported while they are at school. This stress and uncertainty is starting to take its toll on many families and children.
So how do we help these families? Sadly, I have no answers, nor can I assure parents or students that everything is going to be okay. What I can do is connect families and students to local and state programs that help immigrants, programs that can answer questions and maybe lessen some of these fears.
Since the McKinney-Vento program is part of a federal law, some parents are afraid that their children would be targeted by the government or disqualified from applying for legal immigration status in the future. It’s always a relief for parents to learn that McKinney-Vento services will not lead to their child’s deportation, nor will their personal information or immigration status be reported to the government.
My personal experience with immigration has helped me connect with many of these families, because if nothing else, I understand the stress these parents are under. I understand the trauma these children are facing. Most of all, I can stand as an example of hope. After all, I also was an immigrant from Mexico, raised as a migrant worker, and didn’t become a U.S. citizen until 1997. It’s amazing to think of the road I’ve traveled that has led me from Tijuana, Mexico, to being employed by the Bellingham School District to help families that are traveling that same road. There is nothing special about me, so if I can do it, anyone can do it.
To help readers who wish to follow Roxy’s advice and connect families and students to local and state programs, we have compiled a few resources:
- The NEA offers a 2-page fact sheet on how schools should respond to immigration raids, including sample school board policies and resolutions.
- AASA, the School Superintendents Association, published a blog with resources for schools.
- Educators for Fair Consideration
- “Immigrant and Refugee Children: A Guide for Educators and School Support Staff,” by the American Federation of Teachers, First Focus, National Immigration Law Center and United We Dream.
- “Unaccompanied Immigrant Children: Education and Homelessness,” by Patricia Julianelle.