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Amid immigration debate, top teachers gather to protest child detention

Some of the nation's top teachers recently gathered in El Paso, Texas, to speak out against the government’s practice of detaining children who cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Dismissing the notion that they shouldn't get involved in political advocacy, teachers said they see some U.S. policy and procedures as "abusive." Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza of Education Week reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some of the nation's top teachers recently gathered in El Paso, Texas, to speak out against the U.S. government's practice of detaining children who cross into this country from Mexico, and to see that they get the support they need when they return into the classroom.

    Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza of our partner Education Week was there, and she filed this report.

    It's part of our weekly education series, Making the Grade.

  • Mandy Manning:

    All children deserve to be free.


  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Mandy Manning, this year's national teacher of the year, dismisses the idea that educators shouldn't be involved in politics.

  • Mandy Manning:

    Educators are mandatory reporters of suspected abuse, and what we — how we are dealing with immigration right now is abusive.

    We're taking children, and we are putting them into facilities, incarcerating them, simply because they were born outside of the United States.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Several state teachers of the year agree.

  • Ivonne Orozco:

    When I was 12 years old, I was undocumented. And because of the DACA program, I was actually able to work as a teacher. And I am now the 2018 New Mexico teacher of the year.

  • Michael Soskil:

    What happens in one area of the country impacts all of us. And so, even though in my rural community, I may not necessarily see these problems manifest, they still belong to all of us as Americans.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    This part of West Texas is the epicenter of President Trump's hard-line immigration policies. One shelter in particular has drawn a lot of attention. It's about 35 miles from El Paso, in a small, sleepy border town called Tornillo.

    I'm standing on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border. And right behind me, you can see one of the official ports of entry. Here in Tornillo, Texas, is where the tent city used to be. Now, this was initially started as a temporary shelter, about 350 beds to accommodate unaccompanied children who were crossing the border.

    But it quickly expanded to more than 10 times the number of beds, and, at its peak, it was the largest shelter for migrant children in the country. It's closed down now, but there are still approximately 100 shelters across the U.S.

    Mandy Manning says, if this shelter can close down, so can others.

  • Mandy Manning:

    I see the closing of Tornillo as the beginning, because it shows that our government has the ability and the capacity to close these facilities. They're just choosing not to.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees detained migrant children, declined an on-camera interview.

    In an e-mail, a spokesperson wrote the shelters are run consistent with federal law and are necessary to house the thousands of children who arrive every year, until sponsors can be vetted. Children have access to medical care, psychological services, recreation, and education.

    Jessica Vaughan advocates for stricter immigration policy. She's at the Center for Immigration Studies.

  • Jessica Vaughan:

    The understanding of many people in Central America was that, if an adult shows up at the border with a child, they would be treated differently, they would be allowed to enter the country.

    And not only did this motivate a lot of parents to come with a child. It also led some of the smuggling organizations to try and game the system by providing their clients with a child to use to try and get through our system. So, in a way, the child was serving as a deportation shield.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Linda Rivas disagrees that children are being used as shields. She's an attorney with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.

  • Linda Rivas:

    Well, that's absolutely not true. Our clients, almost all of them are escaping some form of violence. Some of them are escaping domestic violence. Some of them are escaping other forms of persecution.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Rivas is speaking to a client who was separated from her children when she crossed the border to seek asylum. The mother, who has since been deported back to Honduras, hasn't seen her children in more than a year.

  • Woman:

    At night, I would dream that we were together, and then I would wake up to the reality again that we were not. My children need me, and I'm not there. This is the hardest thing that a mother should ever have to go through.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    When a federal judge force the government to reunite separated children with relatives, her two sons, along with thousands of other migrant children, were moved from shelters to family members all over the country. Her sons are now living with a relative and are attending public school.

  • Woman:

    My hope for them is for them to study. In my country, they couldn't. They can hardly read, because we were so scared, that we had to continue moving them from school to school. Now I just hope that they're able to meet their goals and that they're able to finish school.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Research shows these detained children suffer high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and behavioral problems.

    Experts found even a brief detention can cause psychological trauma and induce long-term health risks for children.

    Sarahi Monterrey says she sees these effects of trauma in her classroom. Students say they are sad, can't concentrate or have stomach aches.

  • Sarahi Monterrey:

    It's very difficult for students to learn. And it's very hard because, sometimes, even as an educator, it's hard to find the right words of what to say, because, sometimes, I do feel helpless.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    But, at this event, she's found information and resources she can take back and share with other teachers.

    Mandy Manning says she hopes teachers continue to speak out.

  • Mandy Manning:

    We shouldn't just stay in our classrooms. We're teachers. We should be speaking for all kids.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    For the "PBS NewsHour" and Education Week, I'm Kavitha Cardoza in El Paso, Texas.

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