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January 5, 2015

Undocumented students face unique challenges

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Schools around the country are grappling with how to provide care and education to the over 60,000 unaccompanied minors who entered the U.S. illegally from Central America in 2014. Many children came from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador fleeing poverty and recruitment into gangs.

Carlos Sura Jr.  is one of 100 students at Oakland International High School in California, who entered the country without parents. He said he feared violence from gangs in El Salvador.

“When they put you in [a gang], there’s no way for you to get out,” Sura said.

These minors are typically apprehended at the border, and then placed with family members or another host in the area while they go through immigration proceedings.

The students face unique challenges as they enter a new school system without their family. Most have faced trauma before or during their journey, according to Lauren Markham, the school’s unaccompanied minor specialist. OIHS focuses on helping students adjust through after-school programs and meetings with counselors.

Meanwhile, students are undergoing immigration hearings that may result in deportation. U.S. asylum law protects immigrants who would face persecution in their home country for race, religion, political opinion, membership of a certain social group. Each child must prove that they fall under one of these categories.

These cases can be difficult to win, according to U.C. Berkeley Law School instructor Allison Davenport, and add yet another level of stress and uncertainty to the students’ lives.


Warm up questions
  1. Which countries make up Central America?
  2. During 2014, nearly 60,000 unaccompanied minors were caught trying to illegally cross the border into the United States. The majority were from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. What kinds of situations would cause you to flee your home to come to a new country alone? Do you think you would be brave enough to travel more than a thousand miles on your own?
Critical thinking questions
  1. The 380 students at Oakland International High School (OIHS) speak more than 32 different languages and come from 33 different countries. Nearly all immigrated to the US during the last four years and 100 percent are English language learners. What unique challenges do the school’s educators face? What solutions are they using to meet the needs of students? What other ways might the school support their kids?
  2. OIHS co-principal Carmelita Reyes said, “These are children, period. And so what their legal status is, is immaterial. They’re students. They deserve an education.” Do you agree with her statement? Why or why not?
  3. A third of students at OIHS are refugees who have escaped some of the world’s longest and most violent conflicts. Lauren Markham, community schools manager, said that it helps some students to see a mentor or counselor and participate in after-school programs. How might after-school programs and sports support the mental health of these students? Explain your answer.
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