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Educational System Unprepared to Accommodate Unaccompanied Migrant Children

In recent news events, the public has been notified on the influx of immigrants from Central America coming to the U.S. for security and stability. The caravan of migrants includes children that are unaccompanied by their parents (or legal guardians) and at times are traveling alone with a family member or a hired guide. In 2015, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) reported that 102,000 unaccompanied migrant children from Central America and Mexico had crossed the border; however, this number has increased in the past recent years. Why are these children coming to the U.S. unaccompanied? Christopher Nugent stated that these children are “fleeing from persecution [from government or gangs]; some have experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment [from one or both parents]; some may have been brought by adults to the United States intent on exploiting them [as cheap labor or for commercial sex]; and still others are looking to reunify with their parents or relatives.” The Supreme Court ruling in the case of Flores v. Reno gave the children the opportunity to be released from custody and given a fair due process in the courts. Some of the children qualify for trafficking visa, asylum, or a special juvenile status.

So, what happens when the children are released into the general public? Some children are released to sponsors (parents, family or friends) that will care for them and children without sponsors are taken in to care by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) through special care programs, according to Nugent. In any situation, the children have to be enrolled and attend school as required under state law and specified in ORR Enrollment Guide. Further, under the Supreme Court decision of Plyler v. Doe in 1982, the Court ruled that a free K-12 education could not be denied to undocumented children nor their legal status could be questioned. 

But how prepared is the K-12 educational system to receive and provide services to migrant children? MPI points out the importance of programing, such as, English as Second Language (ESL) courses, bilingual services, training teachers, and job skill development programs for those minors that are aging out. The matter of youth aging out from receiving a high school education or degree leaves little to no opportunity to further receive a higher education. There are some programs designed for these students to receive non-traditional educational services after aging-out but can only cater to a selective few. Nevertheless, K-12 educational systems need to be better prepared to serve this population to decrease the educational gap for Latinx students.

This guest post is authored by Alejandro Gradilla, a Ph.D. student in the Educational Leadership program at Central Michigan University.

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