Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Practitioners Speak Out: Serving the Needs of Immigrant Youth

By Sam Piha

On October 7, 2017, we published a blog post on the issue of supporting immigrant families and their children in afterschool. We want to follow this up by hearing directly from youth practitioners from Educators For Fair Consideration (E4FC) that specialize in serving this population. E4FC empowers undocumented young people to achieve educational and career goals through personal, institutional and policy transformation.

Since 2006, E4FC has helped undocumented young people pursue education and careers that create new, brighter futures for them, their families, and their communities. They are building power and change to fulfill on this country’s ideal of opportunity for all. 

Photo Credit: E4FC
Below are responses from E4FC staff member, Grace, a Community Education Fellow that works directly with undocumented students at a local high school. We also include the responses of Estefania, the Community Education Coordinator for E4FC. 

Q: We know that many of our afterschool programs in California are serving immigrant youth - youth who are undocumented or who have family members who are undocumented. Can you briefly describe what kinds of issues and needs that afterschool practitioners should be aware of?

GraceThere are several things that youth organizations need to be aware of:
  • The program needs to be responsive to current events and changes made to legislation
  • Courtesy: take care not to not make any judgmental/triggering statements regarding this topic.

  • Privacy: be extra careful when communicating with students. Ask if they are feeling comfortable and if they would prefer other methods of communication/service (e.g. when other students are present around the vicinity)
  • Students who were able to benefit from DACA and are currently still eligible to work, are working to support their families. This limits their afterschool participation. 

  • Family responsibilities and expectations: it is important to also address the parent needs and concerns. (Being out late, transportation to their house, parents being scared to drive to pick up their child after certain hours, etc.). 

EstefaniaBe aware of the joking and poking that happens in schools. Create a close to zero tolerance space for immigration jokes. For many students, it is not a joke. Also, be aware of the conclusions many undocumented students are coming up with through their time in the educational system. Residents and undocumented students with undocumented parents might conclude that higher education is not an option for them. 

Q: Can you offer any advice to afterschool workers serving younger children on what they can do better to support their needs? 

Grace: Make them feel welcomed and promote a sense of belonging. It is important that the school and afterschool program are safe zones for everyone and all students are given equal rights regardless of their race, gender, religion, status, and/or beliefs
. If anyone is making discriminating or hateful speech about immigrants/undocumented, if appropriate, approach them one-on-one to share what some immigrants may face. (There may be some limitation for them to understand everything but they may be able to understand some)

There should be a shuttle program to address the concerns of families who do not have a driver’s license. 

Estefania: First advice is to create a zero tolerance space regarding immigrant jokes. Second, provide a space to give educational training for the parents, and/or conduct home visits. Ensure that each student has some understanding of California Laws that protect them and their parents. 

Photo Credit: E4FC

Q: Can you offer any advice to afterschool workers serving older youth on what they can do to better support their needs? 

Grace: Make them feel welcomed and promote a sense of belonging. 
It is important that the school and afterschool program are safe zones for everyone and all students are given equal rights regardless of their race, gender, religion, status, and/or beliefs

Depending on setting or group, it may be beneficial to share some struggles that immigrants may have gone through to reach their destination (i.e leaving behind jobs and/or families) and issues that they continue to face in America (i.e. cultural and social adjustments, discrimination against immigrants and “non-white/non-American” status)

Share your own experience, and listen, listen, listen to what the students say. They need someone to listen to them without fear of judgement. 

Estefania: Similar to the advice above, ensure students understand the law and the policies that establish their rights in the United States. Bring speakers into the classroom so students gain perspective on the lives of other people.

Q: Should afterschool programs work to serve immigrant youth through common activities? Or specific activities that are tailored to immigrant youth? 

Grace: I think both are good. Educational activities are important for everybody. They can include issues like why hate/discrimination is wrong. Why making assumptions or judgmental statements can be hurtful even when not meant to be.

Specific activities might include healing circles. They can be general (e.g. anyone who has felt discriminated, or particular groups who have felt social and structural discrimination) or specific to the undocu-community

Estefania: I would invite you to look from the "both/and" model. Include youth in common activities, and also create space for specific activities. It would be ideal to create a space with undocumented students and allies sharing the same information. In this way, undocumented students can sense the amount of community who have their backs. 

Photo Credit:

Q: Can you recommend any activities that they can incorporate into their programs?

Grace: Activities that promote community building and that involve teamwork are good. Consider activities that allow students to have closer understanding of the struggles that the individuals may face.

Q: Can you recommend any organizations or resources that might serve to educate after school workers about the needs of this population?


Estefania: Yes, I recommend a couple of resources from E4FC and others: 

In these two guides, you will find other links to great resources.

Q: Can you recommend any organizations that program leaders might contact to learn more?

EstefaniaI recommend reaching out to United We Dream. They also do a lot of work with educators. 

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