La Frontera: Immigration and Education in Trump’s America

It’s cool outside, the leaves here in Denver, Colorado have all fallen, and kids are out of school on Thanksgiving Break. Given how cozy and quiet this season is supposed to be, it might seem like an odd time to talk about education, immigration, and human rights.

In fact, all three are tremendously important issues, and there isn’t any better time than now to talk about all three and how they intersect – not in spite of the holiday, but because of it. Let me explain.

A Little History

A lot could be said about the Thanksgiving Story, and a lot has over the years – most of it horribly untrue (warning – there is one bad word at the end of the video). The version of the story taught in schools for most parents today was at best horribly culturally insensitive; schools now do marginally better, though they often still gloss over the colonial overtones. Quaint or not, though, every version of the story has a few things in common: people whose lives were threatened in their homeland were forced to leave to find safety, and they arrived in a new place, only to discover that their new home wasn’t especially hospitable either.

Now, as we approach this Thanksgiving in the United States, another group of refugees is approaching the borders of this country. The difference, this time, is that these pilgrims are not colonizers seeking to take someone else’s home for their own, they are colleagues called by the promise of safety, opportunity, and the dignity of basic human rights – ostensibly the promise our nation makes to the world.

pilgrim noun
pil·​grim | \ˈpil-grəm \
Definition of pilgrim
1 : one who journeys in foreign lands : WAYFARER

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pilgrim 

Human Rights are for… Whom?

There are lots of things we could discuss when it comes to human rights – for example, what’s a right, and what’s a privilege? Does cultural heritage take priority over human rights? How do we protect them?

Nearly every nation in the world has some document that defines the rights that country protects within its borders. Similarly, the United Nations has a Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an outline for a basic quality of life and security for all people, that is theoretically supported by all the member nations. In reality, there are sometimes huge discrepancies between words and actions… and that leads us to the issue today.

human rights plural noun
\ˈhyü-mən \ˈrīts
Definition of human rights
: rights (such as freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture, and execution) regarded as belonging fundamentally to all persons

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/human%20rights 

Education is a Right… Right?

One of the things we take for granted in this country is access to an education. In fact, education in the United States is compulsory, meaning that at least basic education is expected for everyone, and the legal systems here can take action to compel people to offer or receive it. Besides that, we argue about it, we spend more or less fantastical sums of money on it (mostly less, lately, but still – it’s a big industry)

Given all of that, one would assume that education was a basic human right in the United States… but it’s not!

It’s true… although education is essentially mandatory here in the USA, it is not protected in the US Bill of Rights or any other document here. And while education is the entire focus of Article 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as it stands the US has no intention of changing that. But education is protected here, and in fact, the United States protects education in a way many others do not: in the USA, education cannot be restricted based on immigration status.

asylee noun
asy·​lee | \ə-ˌsī-ˈlē \
plural asylees
Definition of asylee
law
: someone who is seeking asylum (see ASYLUM sense 3b) or who has been granted asylum

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/asylee 

Where Immigration and Education Meet: The Case of Plyler v. Doe

While the nation debates what other protections, services, and (upsettingly) consequences the caravans of asylees might face upon arrival, one issue that was settled long ago is that of all children among the caravans are entitled to an education once they are on US soil. How?

The Not-Quite-Right to education for all, regardless of immigration status, was established in the United States Supreme Court Case Plyler v. Doe. The case, originally brought by families in Texas whose undocumented children were being forced to attend schools other than their local public schools, and pay exorbitant and prohibitive tuition. The Supreme Court decided that this was unconstitutional, and in 1982 decided in favor of the plaintiffs (the person suing – in this case the parents). 

So, whatever Trump (or any administrations) thinks of those seeking life, safety, and security by making their pilgrimage to the United States, and whatever else happens, we owe the children coming here the sanctuary of school, not the fear of imprisonment.

Happy Thanksgiving