Maryland educator and legislator: DREAMer ‘kids in our communities’ benefit from immigration reform

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by Félix Pérez

Eric Luedtke hadn’t planned on being on the leading edge of a bruising, yearlong effort to pass the DREAM Act when he was first elected to the Maryland state Assembly in 2010. But he didn’t hesitate for a moment because of the job he held before entering public life and still holds: that of a middle school teacher.

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“I teach at a school with a large number of immigrant kids from every continent. These are kids who are as American as I am,” said Luedtke.

The Maryland DREAM Act was signed into law in 2011 after a close vote and, contrary to the widely held political wisdom at the time, was overwhelmingly upheld a year later in a statewide petition referendum. The law grants in-state tuition rates to students born outside the United States who meet certain residency and education requirements.

Why the surge in public acceptance from one year to the next?

“The biggest factor was the DREAMers themselves,” said Luedtke. “They told their stories. They went public. They went to rallies and meetings and legislative visits and said, ‘My immigration status doesn’t make me any less important or any less American.’ ” The referendum passed “overwhelmingly because people saw it was about kids in their communities.”

Eric Luedtke
               Eric Luedtke

Fast forward to today, when the majority of Americans want Congress to pass commonsense immigration reform. Now is the time, Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree, for DREAMer students, their families and the millions of hard-working, law-abiding aspiring Americans to come out of the shadows.

That’s the message Luedtke, other educators and tens of thousands of students, concerned citizens and leaders from the faith community will take to Congress when they march on Washington April 10 for the All In for Citizenship March.

“When you have a policy in this country that is terrifying to 11-year-olds, something is wrong,” said Luedtke, who had a student whose parent was deported.

President Barack Obama likewise is urging Congress to heed public sentiment and fix the nation’s immigration system. At a naturalization ceremony yesterday at the White House, President Obama said:

[W]e’ve always defined ourselves as a nation of immigrants. And we’ve always been better off for it. The promise we see in those who come from all over the world is one of our greatest strengths. It’s kept our workforce young. . . Immigration makes us a stronger nation. It keeps us vibrant. It keeps us hungry. It keeps us prosperous. It is part of what makes this such a dynamic country. . .

We’ve known for years that our immigration system is broken, that we’re not doing enough to harness the talent and ingenuity of all those who want to work hard and find a place here in America. And after avoiding the problem for years, the time has come to fix it once and for all.

Reader Comments

  1. I think this is a great story…when it comes to the belief in and support for ALL students to have an equal opportunity to public education. But, when you mention immigrants from several countries, I hope that is not being confused with those who are refugees. There is a very unique difference between immigrants and refugees; and not by definition alone! The needs are completely different between immigrant and refugee. Immigrants for the most part, understand what western civilization has to offer from the simplest thing like electricity and running water, to knowing how to get a job – no matter what the job is. They are also not expected to pay back the government for being allowed into our country.

    Refugees have a completely different array of needs just in order to survive a simple day in civilization. Coming from a world of the terrible tragedies of war in their countries, and fear for their lives, affects their ability to learn. As teachers, we all know how much the home environment can affect a student’s readiness to learn; socially, emotionally, academically, and basic needs. Refugees are dealing with at least double or triple of the effects of their home life that affects their learning. They are in a world of confusion when they first enter a school and how to respond to the novelty of it all, in so many different ways with so many different emotions. Refugee students do not need to be plopped in a public school within a month of arriving here, and hope that they assimilate quickly. They don’t! I see it as a kid in a candy shop with unlimited access to whatever he/she wants, but no understanding of what it is that they have access to!

    Teaching in a public school with a highly impactful refugee population, it has become a passion of mine to help communities, politicians, educational administration – anyone for that matter – to understand the strenuous affect that refugees add to our public education system! Also consider, are teachers completely ready for this and able to successfully balance the differentiation needs of an extremely diverse group of learners, with very little to no support or resources? Hardly! It’s our dedication that motivates us to find ways to teach them, without even considering high stakes testing! How do you assess a student who went from not knowing how to hold a pencil, turn a page in a book, or what the restroom is for, to a semi adjusted student who now realizes that the fire drill sound does not mean that you need to hide because the violent militants are on their way into your safe surroundings, and that this might be the day you die.

    This is not a feeling or display of discrimination or prejudice in any way. I believe all children have to right to a free, quality and equitable education! I make sure I offer that in my classroom. My point is that as our country is in the middle of changing a system that fails everyone, we need to make sure that we are looking at all of the intricacies of what is best for all of our students. This cannot be a one size fits all! It simply doesn’t work, and there is no need to examine research to figure it out! Look at classrooms and see what is happening! That is the reality!

    My hope, dream, and expectation from those involved with educational reform, consider what the deeper needs are, within our classrooms and within our students’ lives. More and more pressure, accountability and expectations are being put on teachers, with less support and resources. This needs to change! It’s an investment in our country’s future and in one of our most precious resources – students! Human beings! It is not about funding a program, or to be treated as a burden to our budgets and then critized for not being successful. We barely make it at par.

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