by Sabrina Holcomb
For many of America’s most vulnerable students, the newest round of immigration raids by the Department of Homeland Security is not just news but the stuff of nightmares.
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“My students are terrified they’ll come home to an empty house or snatched up when they come to school,” says Utah middle school teacher Chelsie Helton, whose worst fears were realized when one of her students didn’t show up for school week before last.
Connecting with her student on Facebook, Helton learned the 11-year-old had been devastated when his father was taken from their home in the middle of the night. The start of a new year and school semester has coincided with an aggressive deportation campaign by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) targeting recent refugees who’ve received their final removal orders, many of them single mothers and children seeking asylum from horrific violence in Central America.
The nationwide raids are sending shockwaves through a population of students who already suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. As deportation fears rise, some schools are reporting a drop in attendance.
Helton, who says the raids have reopened traumatic wounds for her students, was heartbroken when one of her students cried through an entire class period. “Her father was taken six years ago and she hasn’t seen him since. Now she’s scared she’ll lose her mother too. It’s a PTSD moment for my students. The fear is unbelievable.”
Educators across the country are telling similar stories of students who live in a constant state of terror that manifests as chronic illness, panic attacks, and low self-confidence.
Concerned educators and immigration advocates are doing what they can to help students and their families through the trauma caused by the latest raids. Hundreds of educators and school administrators sent a formal letter to DHS denouncing home raids, some of which have been conducted without warrants or consent.
NEA is working with members on an information campaign to help educate members about the current situation and what they can do to support and protect their students.
Member activists are working with NEA partner United We Dream to circulate their “know your rights” flier and other resources telling families what to do if ICE agents come to their homes. And Dreamers are posting videos to warn families when ICE trucks are seen in their neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, educators who are on the front lines are trying to do their jobs while reassuring frightened students.
Chelsie Helton and her student both broke down when he returned to class after being out a week. “Before this happened, he was stepping out of his comfort zone, contributing in class, and doing better in school. Now his world is shattered. He’s afraid they’re going to come and take his mom too, and I’m afraid he’ll lose all the progress he’s made in school.”
As someone who grew up 45 minutes from the border, Helton says she understands immigration politics but “when you’re a teacher and 65 percent of your kids are Latino, you wonder when you walk into class who’s going to be missing today and who’s going to be in tears. Physical deportation is bad enough, but the kids left behind are undergoing mental, emotional, and spiritual deportation.”