Is one of the worlds superpowers actually withdrawing children from school and creating a barrier to education?

When ‘Teach The World’ advertised for guest writers for our blog, Lisa Moberg, a teacher from Arizona in the USA took the opportunity to share her personal experiences of when education provision goes wrong.

This story opens a very emotive subject, particularly so following Donald Trump’s “build a wall” election campaign: Mexicans living illegally in the United States and taking advantage of the free quality education system available.

When these ‘illegal immigrants’, some of them second and third generation, are identified and evicted from the US back to their native Mexico, what provision is there for the younger generations, the children, to continue their education? In Lisa’s experience there is no structured continuation plan which means that providing ongoing education becomes challenging at best and, in many cases, grinds to a halt entirely, adding to the number of children globally who are denied access to education.

Lisa Moberg writes:

“When I began teaching at a Title 1 school in Arizona in 2004, it was an eye-opening new chapter of my life.  For 30 years, I grew up and lived in southwest Washington state, where the average population included white, middle-class American citizens.  After moving down to southwestern United States, my new surroundings inspired a new awareness of race and cultures within my existing schema.  

I was excited to learn about the Hispanic citizens of my school and town through social interactions, cultural celebrations, and delicious cuisine.  It was enlightening to meet with the parents of my Hispanic students and learn about how they persevered through poverty and hardships to make it to America.  They all have one goal in mind: provide a better education and future for their children.

A couple years later the utopic ideals of the Hispanic parents of my students were shattered.  Sheriff Joe Arpaio began his legendary “crackdown” on illegal immigrants in 2005, and has boasted of arresting at least 30,000 immigrants.  Several of my Hispanic students started fearfully coming to school, cloaked in an invisible shroud of anxiety, wondering if their parents would be next.  The children started living with their grandparents, not knowing exactly where their migrant farm-working parents ran off to.  

One of those students is Millie.  She was a very kind, sensitive little girl with a big heart.  Millie was struggling with her reading skills, and I wanted to meet with her guardians to discuss how to help her further.  Millie’s parents had left when the illegal immigration crackdown began, and she lived with her grandmother who only spoke Spanish.  They didn’t have a computer or phone to communicate with, so I had a translator write a note in Spanish, inviting the grandmother to a predetermined conference at school.  As the hours ticked by past the appointed conference time, I realized the family was a no-show.  It wasn’t surprising, but I felt a sense of urgency as Millie was suffering academically.  The next day, I sent another note, stating that if they don’t come to a conference, I would stop by the house for a visit.  It wasn’t meant as a threat, but was perceived as one.  The grandmother came immediately after receiving the note, and we had a great conference, although I was concerned about the visible physcial pain she was in.  When I asked her about it, she replied that she had been involved in a farm equipment accident, but she could not go to the hospital to receive help.  Reading between the lines, I knew she was an illegal immigrant.  It was heartbreaking to see the pain she was in, but this devoted woman was staying in the United States to keep Millie in a school that could help her with her educational needs.  Later, I asked Millie why the grandmother came so quickly after she received the second note.  “Abuela doesn’t want you to know where we live,” she replied, “you might tell the police.”  Curious about what that meant, I followed her school bus a few days later, and watched Millie go to her house.  They lived in an abandoned shack, with no windows or electricity.  It was a bittersweet reminder of how some parents/guardians will do anything for their children to receive an education.

In the same year, I had another student whose father received a letter from the Federal Government, informing him that he needed to go back to Mexico as he was an illegal immigrant.  The family came to me in tears, begging me to help him stay in America.  But when I conferred with my school district about this request, I was legally bound to state how his interaction in my classroom directly impacted the student’s education.  Well, as he was a migrant worker and worked long hours, the father never came into my classroom.  Therefore, I couldn’t provide any legal assistance.  Subsequently the father moved down to Mexico, and the mother and children followed him after the school year was over.  They were heartbroken to leave a stable, quality education in the United States, the only one the children knew, to go back to something they worked hard to get away from.

Although the education system in the United States has its flaws, it has a great many incentives.  It’s free, offered through various amounts of programs and school settings, and can be accessed from preschool to college.  This is not the case for the Mexican children, and what is even more frustrating, the American children who were ripped away to go back to Mexico have an even more uphill battle to overcome.  

During the Immigration Crackdown, more than 205,000 parents of American citizen children have been deported back to Mexico.  That means there a lot more English-speaking children now living and learning in Mexico.  There are several issues with this new problem of deportation.  First, the majority of American children do not speak Spanish fluently, and the Mexican schools do not provide bilingual programs or English-speaking classes.  So now the children have a whole new language barrier to overcome.  Some parents are trying to overcome the achievement gap by enrolling the children in online classes.  But the average Mexican income does not meet the high cost of online education, and this is another hurdle to jump.  According to data from the “Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD),” almost 19 percent of Mexican youths between the ages of 15 and 19 were not enrolled in an educational program or working in 2010.  These students are losing the most important element of their educational background to close the achievement gap and overcome poverty.

Even though I teach and live in America, I can see and hear the children without access to education.  They are living right across the border from me, and they used to be my students!  We need to rescue the trapped American children and provide them with a quality education in their parents’ home land.” 

We would appreciate hearing your thoughts and discussions on this post, so please join us on Twitter to continue the conversation. @ExplorerJust @ifofficialuk @L2Gura

  • Is the United States contributing to the number of out of school children?
  • Should the US government have any level of responsibility for the continued education of illegal immigrants?
  • Should any country have any level of responsibility for the future education of deported illegal immigrants?
  • Should the US and Mexican governments collaborate to create and execute a strategy for educating these excluded children?
  • Does your own experience confirm or contradict Lisa’s experience?
  • This piece also begs the question where else this, or similar, is happening?

We really want to hear from educators, politicians, NGO’s and anyone with experience of making education happen. Please take a look at this page and get in touch to share your story.

Please note that as a project TTW does not have any political bias and we, the team, try to reflect that impartiality throughout the programme.