The American Federation of Teachers produces guide to support educators working with immigrant and refugee children

published 18 October 2017 updated 6 December 2021

The AFT's "Immigrant and Refugee Children: A Guide for Educators and School Support Staff" includes both background information on immigration— especially for refugee asylum seekers crossing the border from Mexico—and practical advice for families threatened by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immigration raids, deportation and detention.

The guide outlines basic facts about immigration, including why so many young people have moved to the U.S. from Central America—many are fleeing gang violence, crime and human trafficking; others are trying to reconnect with family members already living in the U.S. It quantifies the movement: Since 2014, more than 100,000 unaccompanied children have sought refuge in the United States, primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The guidedescribes what an ICE raid can be like: large groups of armed agents who sometimes come with no warrant in predawn hours and sometimes target youth whose status has changed because they have recently turned 18. It explains what happens if someone is arrested, using a step-by-step "home raid-to-deportation map" to describe the process.

Relevant immigration law also is outlined in the guide: For example, it explains that ICE is prohibited from raids on school property, at hospitals, during funerals, weddings and other public religious ceremonies, and at public demonstrations; and it notes that schools are prohibited from providing information from a student's file to federal immigration agents without a parent's consent.

But most useful are the guide's practical tools for those who want to help. "Creating a safe space where students can come to you for support and advice is the best thing you can do for your students," it tells educators. Informing students and their families of their rights is one of the most important directives, and the guide provides a list of "What to do if ICE comes to your door," which can be posted. Among the advice: Don't open the door because agents must have a warrant. Don't speak without first consulting an attorney.

Other suggestions for educators include:

  • Work with parents to develop a family immigration-raid emergency plan. (Who will take care of the children? Save money for attorney fees.)
  • Provide a safe place for students to wait if a parent or sibling has been detained.
  • Provide counseling for students who have had a family member detained.
  • Maintain a list of resources such as pro bono attorneys, immigration advocates and social workers.

Other suggestions include issuing statements condemning the raids; writing letters to the Department of Homeland Security in support of individual students who have been detained; and adopting school and district resolutions to protect students from ICE agents on school campuses, to treat students equitably and to train teachers on how to deal with immigration issues. These are practical steps tofight back against the attacks that are eroding the trust that educators work hard to build with thestudents and families they serve.

The "Immigrant and Refugee Children" guide was developed by the AFT in partnership withUnited We Dream, the National Immigration Law Center and First Focus.