Schools a Minefield for Undocumented Students After DREAM Defeat

It's no secret that anti-immigrant activists have a penchant for targeting youth, the most vulnerable of the undocumented set. But the Senate defeat of the popular DREAM Act confirmed the obvious. The war on immigrants is being waged not only along our borders, but within our classrooms as well.

It's no secret that anti-immigrant activists have a penchant for targeting youth, the most vulnerable of the undocumented set. But the Senate defeat of the popular DREAM Act confirmed the obvious. The war on immigrants is being waged not only along our borders, but within our classrooms as well.

But depriving undocumented students with a pathway to citizenship clearly wasn't enough. From coast to coast, anti-immigrant forces are trying to block undocumented students from attending college, keep Latino teens from learning about their cultural heritage, and stop immigrant children from knowing their rights.

Undocumented students need not apply

Georgia has become the latest state to consider banning undocumented students from college. While no federal laws prohibit undocumented youth from pursuing higher education, a number of states--like Arizona--have attempted to block access to college by denying in-state tuition and publicly funded scholarships. Georgia, however, is among the first to attempt an outright ban on undocumented students.

According to Prerna Lal at, North Carolina community colleges tried to implement a similar ban last year, but repealed it after realizing the law was causing the schools to lose money. Wary of meeting the same fate, Georgia colleges--including University of Georgia and Georgia Tech--are thinking about a more measured policy that would ban undocumented students only if schools lacked the space to admit all qualified candidates. Lal notes that such a policy would serve political rather than practical ends, as undocumented students make up less than one percent of Georgia college's 310,000 students.

Ethnic studies are un-American?

Meanwhile, in Arizona, students of all ages are facing an uphill battle for ethnic studies curricula. A controversial law signed by Governor Jan Brewer (R) last May threatens to abolish a variety of ethnic-based academic programs by the end of the year. The law, which makes exceptions for Holocaust, African-American, and American Indian studies, seems to specifically target Raza Studies--a program that promotes Mesoamerican history, culture, and pedagogies.

Roberto Rodriguez at New America Media reports that school districts are standing against the law and in support of the Raza Studies program which is proven to positively impact student success:

The consensus amongst Tucson's Mexican- American community is that come Jan. 3, 2011, Raza Studies will be fully operational--continuing to educate and inspire minds and prepare students to attend colleges and universities nationwide. The program is virtually an anti-dropout program (more than a 90 percent graduation rate) and a college student factory (upwards of 70 percent go on to college).

State schools superintendent Tom Horne is a vocal proponent of the law, which renders him the target of a potentially historic lawsuit that some say could rival Brown v. Board of Education. The new law is just the latest in a slew of measures intended to make Arizona a hostile environment for Latinos, thereby discouraging immigration while driving attrition.

Know your rights

In response to growing hostility towards immigrant students of all ages, some schools have started educating youth about their rights--even distributing "Know Your Rights" cards.

As Elise Foley at the Washington Independent reports, a couple of San Diego schools have incurred a fair amount of controversy for doing just that. After receiving reports that undocumented students were having a hard time concentrating in school due to stress related to their immigration status, schools began disseminating pamphlets teaching kids to "protect yourself from immigration raids!" The pamphlets drew ire from local police, who argued that the illustrations portrayed them in a negative light.

Drop the I-Word

In the meantime, Colorlines has launched a campaign to counter negative depictions of the undocumented. They've teamed up with a host of other progressive organizations remove the term "illegals" from media discourse. The I-word, according to the campaign, "creates an environment of hate by exploiting racial fear and economic anxiety, creating an easy scapegoat for complex issues, and OK-ing violence against those labeled with the word."

The I-word is particularly pernicious when applied to undocumented children, whose constitutionally protected right to a public education seems ever in question. By dropping the racially charged term, media outlets can better foster meaningful dialogue about immigrants and immigration instead of producing anti-immigrant sound bites that only foster division and hate.

The DREAM is not dead

In the same spirit of community empowerment, several non-profit organizations have launched a $300,000 Spanish-language campaign to leverage support of the DREAM Act into votes against the Republican Party. According to Sarah Kate Kramer of Feet in Two Worlds, the ads are being aired in nine crucial cities across the country, and feature a montage of voices claiming to be "the undocumented students of the DREAM Act." They urge the public to vote Democratic, saying:

...who opposed this bill? Who wants to quash our dreams? Republicans. The same people who opposed the extension of unemployment benefits. Republicans. Who try to deny immigrant rights in Arizona and other states. Republicans. Who always seem to stand with big corporations against working families.

As mid-term elections draw nearer, anti-immigrant forces will likely come down harder on undocumented students whom they falsely claim are stealing public education from citizens. Fortunately, with Democrats promising to revisit the DREAM Act post-election, Latinos have everything to gain by getting out the votes.

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