Wisconsin teacher fights for his students and immigration reform


by Colleen Flaherty

In a small town in northern Wisconsin, Spanish teacher Scott Ellingson has two students in his class who traveled a long way to be there.

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Jorge and Miguel are from El Salvador. They came to the U.S. last year to avoid joining a gang. They had been approached by a gang member to sell drugs in their school and they refused,” said Ellingson.

When their mother heard about the incident, she paid $15,000 to have a coyote smuggle them across the border. The coyote never showed, and they were detained by the Texas Border Patrol for two months. They were released to their mother, who was living in Wisconsin, where they began attending school.

Last year, an immigration judge issued an order that they must voluntarily depart the United States by December 13, 2012, or be deported back to El Salvador.

“December 13 has passed and they now risk being deported,” said Ellingson. “In their village back home, young men either join what is considered to be the world’s most ruthless and dangerous gang or they are killed. The family believes that going back to El Salvador would be a virtual death sentence for their boys.”

Ellingson has done what he can to help. He drove the family six hours to Chicago to a political asylum hearing. They were turned down. He has helped raised money to cover extensive legal fees and assisted in hiring a new lawyer.

They are good-hearted young men who just want to have a chance in this country. Jorge, the eldest, has confided to our Hispanic custodian that he wants to be a teacher one day so that he can help students just as his teacher has helped his family, said Ellingson.

Currently, 72 percent of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring citizens living in the United States. Increasingly, there is bipartisan support for DREAMer students and comprehensive immigration reform from congressional Democrats and prominent Republicans, including Sens. John McCain and Marco Rubio. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who opposed the DREAM Act three years ago, has also come on board.

Congressman Cantor, in a recent speech, said:

It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home.

More than 50,000 DREAMers graduate from U.S. high schools each year.

Ellingson said that before immigration reform passes, there are many things people can do to reach out and help families like Jorge and Miguel’s. He’s noticed that in his community, which he describes as “pretty conservative and pretty homogenous,” putting a human face on the issue drives people to look beyond their political identity.

Teacher Scott Ellingson's message on immigration reform: "Now or Never!"
Scott Ellingson’s message on immigration reform: “Now or Never!”/photo by Rebecca Logan

“When they actually meet these people and get to know them, they see that these are good people. They work hard and they want better things for their families, just like everybody else in this country. It’s amazing how people who are normally conservative can put politics aside and fight for these families.”

Ellingson also maintains that education is essential, and he starts with his own students. He asks them to research their own family histories, where their families are from and when they emigrated to the United States.

“The point of the project is that we’re all immigrants or descendants of immigrants, and the stories are roughly similar to immigrants coming here today.”

Ellingson said he is hopeful for immigration reform, and that it will mean so much to students all over the country like Jorge and Miguel.

“These are children, these are human beings, and they long for what we all want. They want to get an education, get good jobs, and they want to eventually have their own families. They deserve to,” said Ellingson. “We as educators do whatever we can do to help out students in class, to continue to be here and to be successful.”

Reader Comments

  1. I am a lawyer for children. Have you looked into Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Not very well known, but great for children!

  2. Well, I hope Mr. Ellingson had the family’s permission to publish information that might invite some follow-up by his fellow citizens to demand legal action by the “authorities.” Also, I don’t believe the DREAM Act applies to children who have been in the U.S. for less than five years. I think I share Mr. Ellingson’s values and beliefs. I just hope he didn’t step in it here…..

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