August 2011 Archives

Few Youths to be Deported in New Policy

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The Obama administration announced Thursday that it will suspend deportation proceedings against many illegal immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety, said the New York Times.

 

Senator Richard Durbin, the chief proponent of the DREAM Act (the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) in the Senate, believes that the new policy will stop the deportation of most illegal immigrants who came to the United States as young children, graduated from high school, and want to go to college or join the armed forces - those who would qualify for relief under the DREAM Act.

 

As explained in the Future of Children's Immigrant Children volume and policy brief,  the DREAM Act, first introduced in Congress in 2001, would give certain undocumented students the opportunity both to attend college and to become cit­izens by following a two-step process. The first step gives undocumented youth a conditional legal status that allows them to work or attend school without fear of deportation. To qualify, youth must be enrolled in a two-year or four-year college or in trade school, have a high school diploma or General Educational Development credential, have been in the United States continuously for at least five years, have good moral character, and meet a few other requirements. Then, in the second step, youth would have up to six years to apply to upgrade their status to legal per­manent resident (LPR), which in turn would allow them to apply for citizenship. To upgrade their status to LPR and eventually citizenship, immigrant youth would be required, among other things, to maintain good moral character and complete at least two years of college, trade school, or military service. During the second step, the youth would be eligible for fed­eral student loans and some other benefits, but not Pell grants (the major source of federal grant funds for low-income college students) or welfare benefits.

 

In 2010, the DREAM Act's most recent congressio­nal run, it passed the House but was defeated in the Senate, when supporters could not muster the sixty votes needed to end a filibuster. The major argu­ments against the act are that it would reward illegal behavior (unauthorized entry to the United States) by granting what opponents call "amnesty," allow "crimi­nal aliens" to become citizens, cost taxpayers money by allowing some federal and state funds to be spent on undocumented immigrants and thereby deprive some citizens of educational benefits, and allow aliens granted LPR status the right to bring their relatives to the United States. Opponents also argue that by rewarding unauthorized entry, the act would encour­age future illegal entry to the United States.

 

Perhaps the two strongest arguments in favor of the DREAM Act are that giving people a chance based on academic achievement and good behavior is the American way and that the act will help immigrant youth by boosting their education and will help the nation by allowing it to recoup the investments it has made in their K-12 education.

Under the new initiative outlined in the Times, the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, can provide relief, on a case-by-case basis, to young people who are in the country illegally but pose no threat to national security or to the public safety. Although not nearly as comprehensive as the DREAM Act or other legislative immigration reform, this policy could ease fears for undocumented immigrant youth who are pursuing productive education and employment, and contributing positively to the country's wellbeing, while also strengthening the country's focus on those illegal immigrants who pose real security threats.

Today the Washington Post highlighted the benefits of bilingualism for children. For parents, it is better to speak to young children in a native tongue than in a recently acquired language. Researchers who spoke at the Education Research Section's practitioners' conference, "Enhancing Practice for English Language Learners," which presented findings from the Future of Children's Immigrant Children volume, agreed.

 

As summarized in Melanie Wright's coverage of the event, in addition to noting that English literacy needs to be taught early and taught well, researchers recommended that schools also show respect for a child's native language and culture. One way to do this is by supporting the use of the native language at home. McGill University Professor Fred Genesee explained that this is not only important for socio-emotional development, but it is also important for enhancing second language acquisition. In fact, Genesee suggested that English language learners are actually able to learn English more quickly if they are literate in their native tongue. Instead of trying to get parents with limited English skills to speak English at home - which may hurt family communication - he recommended supporting their use of the native language in ways that push their children toward literacy. Multilingualism is a valuable asset that should be preserved and developed.

 

Second, the timing and quality of English language education was a non-controversial but oft-repeated theme. Princeton Professor Marta Tienda stressed the need for early English mastery in the opening talk, and RAND economist Lynn Karoly described linguistic and socioeconomic disadvantages that immigrant children face when they enter school. Both noted that intervention in the early years is both critical and achievable, as 78 percent of current English language learners are born in the United States. University of Texas Professor Rob Crosnoe stressed that the return on investment of teaching younger children is much higher, as building language skills becomes more difficult and costly with age and is less likely to result in fluency. While the need for quality education seems intuitive, speakers noted that many current approaches to teach English language learners miss the mark by assuming children "soak up language like a sponge." This, Genesee declared, is a myth.   

 

Third, speakers addressing professional development issues advocated making language learning a school goal rather than the purview of just English language learning teachers. To aid students, schools should integrate language education into their lessons, ensuring that students have the vocabulary and language skills needed for their content areas. Incorporating language themes into other school settings reinforces the lessons from English instruction. A key way to do this, according to Jennifer Himmel from the Center of Applied Linguistics, is to have teachers in "content areas" such as math and science set language goals for their students, something that can benefit the literacy development of native English speakers as well as those learning the language. Along with these recommendations, speakers also suggested ways to offer support and resources to the teaching community that can help them achieve these aims, from professional development to increasing collaboration between teachers and their administrations. Another component of fostering unity in a multilingual setting is reaching out to parents who may not speak English.

 

Finally, presenters addressed assessment issues. Professor Sandra Barrueco of the Catholic University of America stressed the importance of using multilingual measures that have been properly validated. She identified some frequent errors in the field (such as conducting one's own translation or selecting other language measures out of convenience, familiarity, or because they appear adequate in English) and explained how these potentially lead to negative consequences, including misdiagnosis, program defunding, or inappropriate policy decisions. She and other speakers also discussed assessment issues in the classroom and broader school contexts.

This outreach event followed the release of the Future of Children's latest volume, Immigrant Children, and was co-sponsored by the Future of Children and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

 

For more information about the conference as well as power point slides and videos, please visit http://www.futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/events/enhancing-practice-with-e/index.xml.

 

 

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