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September 29, 2014

Wave of undocumented students challenges schools

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The increased number of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. has challenged school systems by swelling enrollment numbers. Over 63,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed the U.S. border from Central America this year, which is over double last year’s total. Many of the children come from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, fleeing drug gang violence.

Immigration officials usually apprehend the children at the border and place them in the custody of a guardian while the U.S. government processes their case.

Meanwhile, many students enroll in school, which by federal law is not allowed to ask about their immigration status. In Miami-Dade, the fourth-largest school district in the county, over 70 new students enrolled in elementary school at the start of the school year.

These students face unique challenges. Many do not speak English, requiring a different type of instruction from teachers. And some children fled their home country after witnessing violence, leaving them with unique social and psychological needs.

One student, who left Honduras with her brother to escape drug gangs, said she had no other choice.

“I had to do it because I had no other option,” she said. “If I didn’t leave my country, I don’t know what would have happened to me or my brother.”

It costs approximately $2,000 more per year to educate each foreign-born student. The federal government granted Miami-Dade $3.4 million to help with these costs, but that may not go far enough, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.

And students face a long wait—in some cases, years—to have their cases heard in court, according to Cheryl Little, executive director of Americans for Immigrant Justice.

Miami-Dade wants to educate students regardless of their immigration status, Erica Paramore-Respress, principal of Miami-Dade Elementary School, said.

“When these kids come in, they need to know we’re not really concerned about your immigration status. It matters not,” she said. “We want you to come in and we want to teach you.”


Warm up questions
  1. What is it like to be a new student? What range of emotions do you experience? What are the hardest parts? What are the best parts?
  2. Where is Central America?
Critical thinking questions
  1. How is having an overcrowded school challenging for, teachers, students or principals?
  2. In the story, reporter April Brown said that “according to federal law, schools are not allowed to ask about students’ immigration status.” Why do you think this law exists? How does it protect teachers? Can you think of a reason a teacher might need to ask a student about their legal status?
  3. According to the Florida State Legislature, the starting amount of money set aside for each student in Miami-Dade county is $3,798. The state estimates the must spend $2,000 more for each foreign-born student. Why might it be more expensive to teach these students? What are some examples of educational needs specific to these students?
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