Solving the Immigration Crisis: Education, not Exploitation

Media provided by Unsplash.

Immigrants are integral to New York City’s demographics and culture. A large portion of New York’s population is made up of immigrants legally in the state under a state-provided asylum visa. Still, despite higher labor force participation, according to the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, undocumented immigrants’ median annual wages ($25,300) are much lower than native-born Americans’ earnings ($45,500). 

Too many businesses use asylum-seekers to their advantage, often due to language and privilege barriers. Since immigrant parents might be illegal or face injustices in their workplaces, it’s their children who often suffer from these shortages. 

Education might be a child’s only way out of this loop, and according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – which only the US and Somalia in the world did not ratify (although some states in the US did) – a “child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually.” 

The children of New York City should be given their right to develop. Accessible education is indispensable.

To prevent such injustice, the Department of Education must take preliminary steps to ensure that all students in New York receive a decent public education. As a progressive state, New York City should invest in the advancement of its future generations rather than exploit their labor. Furthermore, our state should convince our federal government to ratify the Convention.

Due to the deteriorating political, economic, and humanitarian circumstances across many countries, particularly in Central and South American countries such as Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Haiti, migration in the Americas has grown substantially during the past 10 years. According to NBC News, 2.76 million migrants attempted to cross the southwest borders in the fiscal year 2022, shattering previous records.

In 2020, spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, former President Trump issued Proclamation 10014 on April 22. The Proclamation halted immigration in order to lessen the health risks that immigration posed to the American labor market during an economic recovery. On February 24, 2021, President Biden revoked P.P. 10014., causing the migration from the southern border of the United States to jump to levels not recorded in decades. However, two New York Times correspondents found that “with pandemic restrictions still in place, there is almost no access to asylum,” resulting in the frequent unlawful crossing of the border.

The stakes are high for those who lack access to fundamental human rights and necessities in their own countries, but leaving one’s country and traveling to the United States southwest border is also exceedingly perilous and traumatic. This challenge leads to many parents leaving their children back home with a relative or friend and enduring the journey alone.

Image taken by Kirsten Luce of a group of migrants. Two of the migrants on the right are parents to 4 children which they had to leave back in Mexico, under the care of a trusted family member. The 4 migrants, traveling together, were discovered by the border patrol and handcuffed to one another, as shown in the photograph. 

(Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

Other times, many parents are faced with the heartbreaking reality of having to take their kids along this arduous journey of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border which stretches 1,951 miles, in order to give them possibilities for a brighter future. 

The Darién Gap is a roadless region of jungle that runs between Columbia and Panama. Julie Turkewitz, the head of The Times’ Andes bureau, and Federico Rios, a highly accomplished photographer, recently hiked the Darien Gaps’ 70-mile migratory path. While they traversed through miles of the untamed and wild jungle, they were accompanied by groups of migrant children and adults making their way up to the United States on foot.

Turkewitz recounted migrant Olga Ramos as having hiked for days through the jungle while toting a diapered toddler on her back through mud that was so deep it almost swallowed them whole. Ms. Ramos had confidence that she would succeed in reaching the United States, just as her friends and neighbors had weeks prior. She had the fortitude to overcome any discouragement that sought to absorb her.

More than 215,000 people have attempted this trek through the endless jungle since January. They are a part of a vast influx of immigrants who have fled their home countries due to pandemic-devastated economies, conflict, and climate change. Turkewitz and Rios observed breastfeeding mothers, young children, teenagers, and generally, physically hurt people rising to the challenge with bravery and consideration for one another.

However, strength is not the only factor that helps one be admitted into the U.S. as an asylum seeker; luck also plays a significant role in being granted an asylum visa. 

Many people view the asylum application procedure as laborious and aggravating. When applying, one must offer tangible evidence that they have experienced or are in danger of facing persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, participation in a certain social group, or political perspective. 

Only individuals who are physically present in the United States are eligible to submit this application, albeit there is a chance it will be denied. This denial isn’t always going to drive one out of America, but it will force a life lived under the shadows of the government. 

In order to protect migrant children, the New York Department of Education dictates that all children deserve the right to public education, regardless of outlying factors regarding immigration. Whether a child’s parents immigrated illegally or are in the midst of the lengthy asylum application process, these rights still remain. 

Through Plyler v. Doe, a Supreme Court case established in 1982, NYC school districts may not deny students a free public education on the basis of their own or their guardian’s undocumented or non-citizen status. 

Asked for the student perspective, Mariaux C. ‘23, the leader of the HOLA Affinity group for Latinx+Hispanic students and faculty, said “Children need a form of stability in their lives which may come from education when their parents can’t directly provide it to them.  Hence, school is important for a child’s social stability and also social mobility.”

The DOE will need to accurately uphold its commitment in developing and sustaining learning environments that represent the diversity of New York City. Especially in light of the recent influx of immigrants who arrived in New York after being bussed by the republican governor of Texas. The benefits of studying in a multicultural classroom where everyone is welcomed have been endorsed by the NYC Department of Education. On their website, the DOE exclaimed that they “strive to welcome and support all students, families, and school staff.”  

School accessibility is a life-altering opportunity. If Steve Jobs, the adopted child of a Syrian immigrant, was not given the right to education because he was the biological son of immigrants, one of the most valuable companies of US history, “Apple,” would only mean a fruit.

Following its mission statement, the DOE has taken several measures that promote the inclusion of migrant children arriving from countries such as Venezuela, which encounter ongoing political and economic turmoil. These initiatives include restricting schools to, at the time of registration, not asking invasive questions related to a child’s immigration status, such as requesting a Social Security Number. 

In 2018, the former New York school chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, proudly spoke of the opening of 48 new dual language and transition bilingual education programs. Hence over the last four years, more than 200 programs have opened or expanded citywide, allowing the DOE to follow through with its claims of creating a rich and diverse learning environment. 

“Every family in our City, including immigrant families and undocumented students, deserves a high-quality education, and language should never be a barrier to equal access,” said Chancellor Richard A. Carranza on the DOE’s website. He continued, recounting, “When I started Kindergarten, I only spoke Spanish and my parents trusted public schools to teach me English — I want to make sure every English Language Learner in New York City has the same experience I did growing up.”

The DOE must provide migrant children with services that provide them with opportunities outside of the school setting, such as free transportation, free food, additional language assistance, mental health support, and a place for them to stay and study after school hours, if they do not have one at home. The city must community to properly fund all of these important services for this society’s youthful population. 

The question persists – do we as children have the privilege to lay our trust in our adults for the proper upbringing of the new generations, or do we need to assist one another to bring about change? This article hopes to prove New York’s need for support, which should make members of this community believe in the reality of the question: What can we as the Grace Church community do to pull its part in encouraging education for all backgrounds?