Why Are Our Immigration Policies Driven by the Politics of White Men?

This is a guest post by Soribel Genao, an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at CUNY Queens College. Her research has focused on examining the diverse systemic issues in and reform of urban schools while assessing administrative, teacher, and community collaborations that facilitate more positive student academic and behavioral outcomes such as student retention in marginalized communities.

As the year is coming to a close, reflections of the last eleven months of the school year have been quite intense around the country’s immigration policies and the students being served.  In reading the latest articles and policies around DACA, another reflective question comes to mind around the decisions being made. Why do we continue to have the wrong people in the right policy-driven places? Aside from supported evidence demonstrating the successes of Dreamers and those who are eager to be successful without documentation, the policies in place are still being created by the same faces: white men with little to no connection to the population.  

In my recent college and university service experiences, I have been privy to experience the way information gathered becomes part of the policies in place.  As an education leadership professor, I have had the privilege of sitting in the same rooms with white men teaching at affluent institutions who have said “disproportionality is not a word my students would understand if they see it on the state exam.” These experiences have not only forced me to continue advocating for students that look like me, but to advocate for education leadership candidates that look like me even more.  

Currently, the City University of New York at Queens College has responded to the high population of incoming migrant populations, both documented and undocumented by establishing a Masters Educational Leadership and Bilingual Extension program.  The program offers candidates to attain a degree and two certificates at once. The program’s focus is around bi/multilingual communities and how to prepare future administrators to understand policies and practices around the needs of the communities before they step into administrative roles.  

In 2012, New York City Department of Education recognized that there was an increase of growing languages in the district beyond Spanish and Chinese dialects.  The need for educators who spoke Creole, Farsi, Urdu and Bangla languages heightened and coaches were being assigned to assist schools with the growing number of students and families in their communities. That same year, DACA was created in June as an executive order under the Obama Administration to postpone removal or deportation for two years meeting precise criteria.  

As DACA continues to be one of the major topics discussed and dissected among the cohorts and their communities, another question of concern has been around how to begin speaking with other district leaders who are not as engaged or involved in the process.  In New York City, school administrators have been trained to deal with the unfortunate decision under the Trump administration to end DACA. However, school administrators were closing out the school year while the zero-tolerance policy was coming to an end.

As a result, the New York State Department of Education also stepped in and supported the idea of our program, which has been preparing educational leadership candidates to be more than just administrators, but to become culturally responsive advocates who will also take part in community board meetings beyond their own neighborhoods. As part of their course work, these candidates have been fearlessly engaging in their own school communities in preparation for what is yet to come.

While statements were posted on school and agency sites, training and preparation for the needs of these children and families are still needed and anticipated. In June 2018, there were over 320 children sent to facilities throughout New York City. School administrators throughout New York City have been dealing with some of the most extreme cases of student and family traumas for decades. Yet, the need for teacher and administration preparation and training for understanding the culture, ethnicity and race of this population is more important than ever.

In an interview conducted by Chalkbeat earlier this year, a Brooklyn principal stated that there are similarities between foster students who are living in temporary housing, students and families living in shelters and those who have been separated at the border. While the similarity here has more to do with the safety and environment, there is certainly an important factor that is not similar. These children had to witness being caged or unsuitably detained before being transported to cities throughout the nation. The mental and emotional trauma, while similar to students experiencing separation in New York City, needs a different type of preparation and attention by teachers and administrators. The fact of the matter is that due to a failed and inhumane policy, these children will be students at schools where the majority of the principals and teachers look more like those who separated and detained them than like them. Providing changed schedule and academic assessments are secondary when it comes to these populations. Administrators and teachers that cannot relate to these cultures or families will probably add to the trauma or discover trauma themselves. And in this case, how do we create a sustainable discourse between academics, policymakers, and the education community as a whole?

While universities like CUNY have taken a lead in innovation with establishing a program dedicated to preparing local leaders become global thinkers and leaders, there are still other academic and policy conversations that need to take place in order to provide a universal understanding of how the current policies impact everyone.

Right before the elections, I witnessed Dolores Huerta give a powerful speech outside of an organizer’s garage in Nevada.  While not running for any political position, she was extremely persistent in her message around the current political climate and the impact on all sectors. “Every moment is an organizing moment and every person has the right to be an activist for what is right and make the change” she said.  As a long-time organizer, her message was most supported by high school volunteers who were also undocumented and were willing to assist in reaching out to voters. And while some major political players have actually advocated, tweeted and continue to write and fight about DACA, the innovative language and ideas proposed are just that…proposed.

And while I was not undocumented or born to undocumented parents, I do remember always feeling intimidated, insecure, and questioned most things I was taught even when right because English was not my first language.  Born and raised in New York City in a marginalized community and attending public school however, was not as intense at attending a white post-secondary institution, which made me question my existence even when I knew the language, my rights, and was sitting right next to students that did not look like me. I think back to my own experience and cannot even fathom what Dreamers are experiencing as they continue to pursue their dreams at incremental stages because their plans are always just as good as unplanned.  

Continuing to advocate and support candidates interested in serving marginalized bi/multilingual, and undocumented students and families is not just an opportunity to be innovative.  It is the obligation as an educator to provide the opportunities that our country’s ideas are based on. Current social and political abnormalities are not the standards to normalize.  We must continue to steer away from silence and remember that Burke’s words “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” There are a whole lot of people out there thinking that doing nothing is a good strategy. Even at my own institution.



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