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Children Following Deported Parents Face Educational Roadblocks




By: Robin Chenoweth

Children who go to Mexico to live with a deported parent can encounter a host of struggles, an Ohio State University researcher says, including social isolation and difficulty in school because they can’t read and write in Spanish. The children, who mostly were born in the United States and may have never been to Mexico, experience a difficult transition and often are held back in their new schools.

Mexican schools, especially in rural areas to which many immigrants return, do not have second-language instruction or individualized support for children with learning difficulties, said Sarah Gallo, assistant professor at Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology. Gallo is a Fulbright Scholar in the state of Puebla doing research on forced repatriation and transnational schooling.

Children of Mexican immigrants in the United States often speak Spanish in the home, but are not literate in their parents’ native language. Because most receive limited bilingual education in the United States, they are unlikely to develop the academic Spanish and literacy they need to succeed in Mexico.

“When they arrive in Mexico, they are in the same class with everybody else, with teachers who have never been trained to work with multilingual students or with students who bring in different resources,” she said. “Kids and families and teachers really have to come up with their own strategies on how to make this work.”

Kids adjust differently depending on their age, social supports and teachers, Gallo said. A first-grader in the study transitioned well because his peers also were learning to read Spanish. His third-grade brother encountered huge challenges because he was expected to read and write in Spanish his first day of school.

“Even within the same family, in the same school, in the same community, their transition has been very different,” she said.

As part of her yearlong grants through Fulbright and the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation, Gallo works in five schools with students who have come to Mexico since 2014. In the largest school, 7.5 percent, or about 30 students, were U.S.-born. In some cases, students’ parents were deported and their children followed them to Mexico. In others, a family member was sick or dying back home and the undocumented relative was forced to make an agonizing decision.

“Do you go back to see your mom at the end of her life? Going back to see them means permanently going back in most cases because re-crossing the border is so difficult,” especially now, Gallo said.

As an ethnographer and anthropologist of education, she spends a lot of time with students in schools and in their homes. She has observed an emotional toll on some children.

In small Mexican towns, a high value is placed on conformity, Gallo said. Even the curriculum in public schools dictates that every student learns the same lesson from the same books, often on the same day.

“There’s not a lot of space to be different,” Gallo said.

That makes it tough for kids like the teenager from New York City who relocated to a 100-student school at the foot of a volcano in Puebla.

“She has been there for two and a half years and the social isolation she has faced and the academic struggles are tremendous,” she said.

Previous studies indicate that children who emigrate from the United States are three to four times more likely to fail a grade.

Gallo’s research in Mexico mirrors her work in Marshall, Pennsylvania, where she did dissertation studies about elementary school children whose parents were undocumented immigrants. She published a book about her findings, Mi Padre: Mexican Immigrant Fathers and Their Children’s Education, in April.

In the United States, Gallo found that the threat of deportation weighs heavily on the minds of children of undocumented immigrants. She writes about Princess, a small girl who sang rhymes about a policeman coming to deport her. Months later, Princess’ father was arrested for dropping a soda bottle in front of his apartment.

That offense led to his deportation to Mexico. The year was 2010.

Laws and the means to deport undocumented immigrants — even for minor infractions such as driving without a license — were in place during the Obama administration, which conducted the highest number of deportation removals in the history of the U.S., more than 3 million removed by immigration courts over eight years.

“It was not in the media. Most Western, white, middle-class people knew very little about this,” Gallo said. “But it was a daily reality for kids.”

Princess, a second-grader, became withdrawn, distracted and easily upset in school, Gallo writes. The girl and her mother remain in the United States, separated from Princess’ father. Because returning to the United States carries the threat of jail time, many deportees don’t take the risk.

A culture of silence surrounds deportations because families fear if they speak up they will be further targeted, Gallo’s research shows. Teachers usually don’t broach the subject because they worry they might have to report it. Princess’ teacher did not know about her father’s deportation and didn’t understand the girl’s behavior change, Gallo writes.

“I need to say, silence isn’t the answer,” she said. “Telling kids you can’t talk about it, you just have to hold it all inside, isn’t going to help them.”

Gallo advocates for schools opening dialogue with immigrant families and students, both in Mexico and the United States. In both settings, she said, children should not be viewed through a “deficit lens.”

“Look at all these tremendous resources and knowledge that they bring to their schooling that are not incorporated or recognized or leveraged in the curriculum,” she said. “What would happen if we started a literacy curriculum that looks at the way they serve as translators or what it means to be a bilingual kid?”

Meanwhile, school administrators and teachers in Mexico are bracing for an influx of new students from the United States. January through mid-March, immigration arrests increased more than 32.6 percent from the same period last year, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement figures supplied to the Washington Post. Many arrested on immigration charges await court appearances.

“They’re trying to prepare for it but there are no real systems in place to prepare for it,” Gallo said.

Those who remain in the United States also fear their children face an uncertain future in schools and in the community, Gallo said.

“Many families right now are asking, is it really worth dealing with this much discrimination on a daily basis for me and my kids?”

Social Work Helper is a news, information, resources, and entertainment website related to social good, social work, and social justice. To submit news and press releases email [email protected]

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Why Social Workers Should Care About DACA




Photo Credit: Stephanie Keith/Reuters

The announcement made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on September 5th should be a call to action for social workers. DACA is a program for youth that arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and have lived in the United States since June 15th, 2017.

DACA was enacted as an Executive Order under the Obama Administration to give these individuals who were brought illegally to the United States as children a chance to be a part of society. These young people are given the ability to apply for a driver’s license, to legally work in the United States, and increases educational opportunities. Most importantly it allows those individuals under the program to come out of the shadows.

DACA recipients are part of our country, and this is perhaps the only country they have ever really known. Many came to the United States as infants and have contributed to their communities in meaningful ways. A study from 2016 points to the economic benefits of the DACA program.

A reported 6% have started their own businesses and many business owners have reported wanting to hire more DACA recipients. Some are working as teachers. Many DACA recipients have reported increasing their civic participation as a result of the program and some DACA recipients even act as emergency responders. One recent example includes a DACA recipient in Texas who tragically died while rescuing those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

DACA has been challenged by the Attorney Generals of nine states, spearheaded by Texas. Tennessee, however, has dropped out of the lawsuit as a result of negative pushback. Several prominent Republicans have denounced the ending of DACA and House Speaker Paul Ryan asked the Trump Administration to give Congress time to work on a legislative solution. Meanwhile, Attorney Generals in several other states are now suing to maintain the program.

As it stands, DACA recipients will lose the current benefits they have within six months and face possible deportation if a legislative solution is not reached. This will impact 800,000 individuals currently in the program. How does this impact social work? Social workers serve in many capacities in the social services and may likely encounter those who are under the DACA program, including the school system and in college settings.

Most importantly, as social justice is a core value of our profession it is evident that we must align with upholding this program. Social workers should be on the front lines to advocate for this population. Those who have been given the opportunity to show their potential under DACA have thrived. Even DACA, however, does not go far enough in that it creates no path for citizenship, which is why the Dream-Act is needed. Living under DACA gives its recipients many crucial benefits, but ultimately leaves them as second-class citizens.

What can we do now? We must continue to organize politically and let our opinions be known to our elected officials. As a professional organization, we should place pressure on our legislators. We must organize our local chapters and mobilize student social workers. We must continue to educate others. Finally, with so many domestic and international crises looming we must not lose our empathy or capacity for hope.

As former President Obama recently wrote in response to the DACA decision, “What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals – that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That’s how America has traveled this far.”

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6 Actions Social Workers Can Take to Stand with Dreamers




“Stand with families” was the clamor of students members of United We Dream. (Luis Hernandez/

Imagine being ripped apart from the home, the only home you may know and separated from your friends, loved ones and everything you know. Imagine not knowing whether you may be able to continue an education and pursue a profession you have worked hard towards achieving and you have dreamed of all your life. Imagine being afraid to step out of your house to go to work or do simple tasks because of the fear of being deported. Imagine feeling like there is a segment of the population that may not want you around.

Thousands of immigrants do not have to imagine this. This has been their everyday experience since a new President took office and threatened to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that has allowed certain group of immigrants –young immigrants known as dreamers—who are undocumented the opportunity to obtain a work permit and avoid deportation. To date, approximately 800,000 people have obtained DACA, which has meant they have continued their education, joined the workforce, invested in homes, cars and have been able to live their lives out of the shadows.

On September 5, the President turned back his promise to act with “a heart” when it comes to dealing with dreamers and announced the end of a program that had given hope, health, opportunities, and life to thousands. Trump has put a significant segment of our community at risk. He could have saved it and even extended, but he didn’t. Instead of delegating this task to Congress and giving them until March 5, 2018 to come up with an alternate legislation, President Trump’s decision to rescind DACA is leaving many wondering and in dire fear.

DACA was more than a program that benefited just immigrants, it was a program that had proven to benefit our nation as a whole; economically—DACA beneficiaries paid taxes ($1.2 billion annually in federal, state and local tax revenue to be exact according to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy) and have paid dues to obtain and renew DACA surpassing $400,000,000 in revenue; professionally, thanks to the program, talent was added to our workforce—DACA beneficiaries are doctors, business owners, lawyers, teachers, therapists, engineers, students and impact every fabric of our society.

They are our neighbors, colleagues, friends, relatives, and in many cases our clients.  DACA recipients came to the United States as children before they were 16 years old and have grown up holding the United States as the only country they know.

Oge Okereke came to the United States in 1999 from Nigeria to seek medical treatment after being involved in a traumatic fire. As a child not knowing much about the system, she overstayed her visa. Oge didn’t realize she was undocumented until she was ready to apply for college. Then the cruel reality hit. She was denied from many colleges due to her status.

Despite her circumstances, she was determined to pursue her college education so she worked hard and saved for college. She proceeded to start her education at a junior college and years later she holds a Master’s degree in nursing as a family nurse practitioner and she is currently pursuing post master’s degree in psychiatry. How can we as a nation tell someone like Oge that she doesn’t belong here? When she and others are selflessly given back in monumental ways.

As social workers, we know that anything that threatens the wellbeing and livelihood of our communities, it becomes an issue that impacts our profession and our country. As our National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics indicates the primary mission of our profession is to enhance the human well-being of all people, help meet basic needs and empower individuals.

When we entered this profession, we did so under an obligation to uphold a core set of values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, and integrity which are the foundation our code of ethics is built on.

Protecting dreamers and providing them with the opportunities they have earned is more than an immigration issue. It’s a human issue, a health and mental health issue. Since the election, direct care providers have seen a rise in anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.Together, there is much we can do to fight this important battle. Here are a few ideas:

There is much we can do to fight this important battle together, and here are just a few ideas:

Create healing spaces for DACA recipients.

If you are a trained social worker, providing healing and relief spaces through support groups in your community will be essential to promote community health. Support groups are a great way to stretch our services and it promotes shared learning among participants. If you don’t have a venue to do a group within your setting, consider partnering with your local church, direct services nonprofit or a local immigration organization. To learn about local DACA group near you visit United We Dream.

Provide pro bono or discounted counseling.

There are mental health needs that are not able to be addressed in groups but there are very scarce mental health services for people who are uninsured including immigrants who are undocumented. If you are trained to provide clinical services, have the credentials for it, and your setting allows you to, consider creating a special rate or pro bono hours for individual therapy.

If you do not work at a setting that allows for pro bono hours, consider joining a pro bono project in your community. There are several states that have created pro bono mental health projects such as The Pro Bono Counseling Project that serves DC metro area residents or The Coalition for Immigrant Mental Health in Illinois, currently recruiting pro bono therapists to serve dreamers.

A google search may lead you to a pro bono counseling project near you. You can also join associations like Open Path Therapy, where therapists who join network agree to charge clients between $30 and $50 per session.

Whichever route you decide to go, make sure that what you offer is visible and well known to community members. I am mindful that providing pro bono hours is a tall order, especially when many of us already have full caseloads and are over stretched, but imagine the impact of each of us providing 30 minutes to 1 hour of pro bono time per week for an individual session—all that we can we accomplish together. These are times to think creatively, reassess how we accomplish our tasks and maximize impact.

Activate your social work affiliated organizations.

As a social worker, you may be a member of social work organizations that hold a lot of influence. If you haven’t seen your affiliated organization release a statement supporting dreamers, I encourage you to reach out to them. As members, you have the right to have issues you care about represented by these organizations.

Join organizations and actions to support dreamers.

Several organizations are engaged in the fight to protect dreamers and fight for comprehensive immigration reform. includes latest events, information for dreamers and a mental health kit. features direct actions that you can participate in. also features healing and wellness resources geared towards immigrants who are undocumented. Other organizations to follow are,,

Share your support in social media.

If you are in social media, let your networks know that you are a social worker that stands with dreamers. Use hashtags: #defenddaca #heretostay #socialwork


Your hard-earned dollars can go a long way. To renew DACA before the expiration date, dreamers have a short window to come up $495 for the renewal fee. Find an organization or fundraising effort supporting dreamers to pay this fee. Here is one of the several efforts to support dreamers. The aimed to raise $35,000 and have raised over $50,000 to date.

No matter what you decide to do, show up! Show up in a way that honors our social work values, our community and yourself.

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President Trump Decision to Rescind DACA is Cruel, Unwise and Unjustified




The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) strongly opposes President Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and will work with allied organizations and Congress to continue protections for young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children.

President Trump’s decision to revoke DACA dismays us. The order is cruel, unwise and unjustified and could lead to a mass deportation of some 800,000 young people.

There is little doubt that DACA has been a successful program during its five years of existence.

DACA recipients or “Dreamers” have significantly contributed to the growth of our local state and national economies. More than 91 percent of young adult Dreamers are employed. They have also demonstrated their patriotism by joining the American military – some have even sacrificed their lives for this nation.

Abolishing DACA would end Dreamers’ pathway to citizenship and disrupt thousands of families. Many Dreamers grew up in the United States, arriving here at age six or younger. So it would be cruel to send them to countries they barely remember or where they do not know the language.

That the administration is postponing implementation of its DACA executive action for six months to give Congress time to pass bipartisan DACA legislation provides little consolation. Given the many urgent international and national priorities facing Congress, there are no guarantees that Congress will have the time to write and pass a DACA bill in the next six months. As a result, mass deportations of Dreamers are likely.

However, given that President Trump has punted DACA to Congress, the House and the Senate now have a responsibility to make passage of the Dream Act an immediate priority.

Many Democrat and Republican lawmakers opposed President Trump’s DACA executive action. NASW expects this bipartisan group will take a lead in quickly introducing and moving a bill through both houses of Congress.

Therefore, NASW will hold Congress accountable for developing an effective policy for DACA recipients that will avoid chaotic disorder in the lives of DACA recipients and their families.

NASW is also working with partner organizations to oppose President Trump’s decision to revoke DACA and is urging its members and the wider social work community to get involved in local and national activities to protect DACA.

NASW also plans to update its members about DACA-related legislation as it moves through Congress and to alert members when we need for them to take action. For more information and data related to DACA, visit the NASW advocacy website.

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