I was horrified reading the latest diktat on immigration from an administration blown into power by the winds of intolerance and resentment. President Trump’s executive order barring immigrants and nonimmigrant visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States is an exercise in cynical obfuscation, bigotry and hard-heartedness.
The obfuscation begins early on with the linking of this crackdown to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 when, as has been pointed out by many commentators, those responsible for those attacks had no connections to the countries targeted by this order. The bigotry of the decree closing our borders to refugees from these seven countries is most evident in the exception it makes for religious minorities in predominantly Muslim countries.
The hard-heartedness of the executive order is unmistakable. Desperate families who have been thoroughly vetted for months have had their dreams of a safe haven in America shattered. Students, scientists, artists and businesspeople who have played by the immigration rules to ensure that they have secure passage to and from the United States now find themselves in limbo. Colleges and universities that attract and depend on international talent will be weakened. So much for the so-called respect for law of an administration that has made a point of promising to crack down on undocumented children brought over the Mexican border by their parents.
Eighteen months ago I solicited ideas from Wesleyan alumni, faculty members, students and staff members as to what a small liberal arts institution like ours could do in the face of the momentous human tragedy unfolding around the world. We discussed the many ideas we received on our campus and with leaders of other institutions. The steps we took were small ones, appropriate to the scale of our institution. Working with the Scholars at Risk program, we welcomed a refugee scholar from Syria to participate in one of our interdisciplinary centers. We created internships for students who wanted to work at refugee sites in the Middle East or assist local effort at resettlement. We began working with the Institute of International Education to bring a Syrian student to Wesleyan. And, perhaps most important, we redoubled our efforts to educate the campus about the genesis and development of the crisis.
In the last few months, I have traveled to China and India to talk about the benefits of pragmatic liberal education, and in both countries I saw extraordinary enthusiasm for coming to America to pursue a broad, contextual education that will develop the student’s capacity to learn from diverse sets of sources. Since returning, I’ve already received questions from anxious international students and their parents about whether we will continue to welcome people from abroad who seek a first-rate education. Students outside the United States are often fleeing educational systems with constraints on inquiry and communication; they are rejecting censorship and premature specialization, and they are looking to us. Will they continue to do so?
Here at home we must resist orchestrated parochialism of all kinds. A liberal education includes deepening one’s ability to learn from people with whom one doesn’t agree, but the politics of resentment sweeping across our country is substituting demonization for curiosity. Without tolerance and open-mindedness, inquiry is just a path to self-congratulation at best, violent scapegoating at worst.
With this latest executive order, the White House has provided colleges and universities the occasion to teach our students more thoroughly about the vagaries of refugee aid from wealthy, developed countries that are themselves in political turmoil. The new administration has also unwittingly provided lessons in the tactics of scapegoating and distraction traditionally used by strongmen eager to cement their own power. There are plenty of historical examples of how in times of crisis leaders make sweeping edicts without regard to human rights or even their own legal traditions.
Our current security crisis has been manufactured by a leadership team eager to increase a state of fear and discrimination in order to bolster its own legitimacy. The fantasy of the need for “extreme vetting” is a noxious mystification created by a weak administration seeking to distract citizens from attending to important economic, political and social issues. Such issues require close examination with a patient independence of mind and a respect for inquiry that demands rejection of falsification and obfuscation.
As the press is attacked with increasing vehemence for confronting the administration with facts, universities have a vital role to play in helping students understand the importance of actual knowledge about the world -- including the operations of politics. To play that role well, universities must be open to concerns and points of view from across the ideological spectrum -- not just from those who share conventional professorial political perspectives. At Wesleyan, we have raised funds to bring more conservative faculty to campus so that our students benefit from a greater diversity of perspectives on matters such as international relations, economic development, the public sphere and personal freedom. Refusing bigotry should be the opposite of creating a bubble of ideological homogeneity.
As I write this op-ed, demonstrators across the country are standing up for the rights of immigrants and refugees. They recognize that being horrified is not enough, and they are standing up for the rule of law and for traditions of decency and hospitality that can be perfectly compatible with national security.
America’s new administration is clearly eager to set a new direction. As teachers and students, we must reject intimidation and cynicism and learn from these early proclamations and the frightening direction in which they point. Let us take what we learn and use it to resist becoming another historical example of a republic undermined by the corrosive forces of obfuscation, bigotry and hard-heartedness.
Submitted by Anonymous on January 31, 2017 - 3:00am
Several days ago, President Trump issued an executive order barring immigrants and nonimmigrant visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States -- significantly impacting many students and scholars. This follows on the heels of two other executive orders focused on immigration enforcement and border security that he signed last week, which froze refugee admissions and called for the immediate construction of a wall along the southwestern border of the country.
In addition, the president has ordered federal immigration enforcement agencies to increase efforts to deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records, called for the construction of additional detention facilities and restored the controversial “secure communities” program that compelled state and local law enforcement officials to collaborate with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency to enforce federal immigration law.
None of the recent executive orders concerned the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, initiated by President Obama in 2012, which provides a two-year protection from deportation and employment authorization to select undocumented youth and young adults, many of whom are enrolled in our colleges and universities. However, Trump’s aggressive approach to immigration enforcement and his characterization of unauthorized immigrants as “a significant threat to national security and public safety” has already begun to cause upheaval and hardship within immigrant communities -- and this will inevitably have a negative impact on undocumented students, as well as on U.S. citizen and permanent resident students from mixed-status families. Moreover, despite White House statements promising a more nuanced approach to DACA recipients, fears that the new administration may still rescind DACA are not without basis.
In anticipation of the Trump administration’s promises to target the U.S.’s approximately 11 million undocumented residents, over the past few months, campuses nationwide have developed sanctuary statements or issued declarations in support of educational access for all students, regardless of their immigration status. In the past few days, campuses are also now scrambling to provide emergency legal advice and services to faculty members and students from “barred” Muslim nations who, although visa holders, are confronting difficulties returning to America following authorized travel abroad. In many cases, campuses are advising those faculty and student members -- even those who are U.S. permanent residents, and all of whom have already been through extensive vetting during the visa application process -- to avoid leaving the country until the precise parameters of the new immigration enforcement directives are determined.
No one knows with certainty what policies the Trump administration will implement, or what impact they will have in the long term on faculty members and students who have immigrated legally to the United States from barred Muslim nations. What is certain is that undocumented students and students from mixed-status families will also face increased challenges under this new presidential administration. It has long been difficult for such student to earn money, drive legally, travel and afford college tuition. Without clear pathways to legalization, many also experience anxiety about their futures. These are not new problems, but in light of the White House’s recent orders, our undocumented students will face even greater obstacles to their academic success and well-being.
While most university faculty, staff and administrators may not be in a position to directly influence federal immigration law or enforcement priorities, we do have the ability -- indeed, we would argue, the responsibility -- to mediate the impact of immigration policies on undocumented students. As immigration scholars and engaged teachers who work closely with undocumented students, we offer the following suggestions for faculty and administrators to consider.
Be aware of the wide range of people affected by proposed changes to immigration policy. About a fifth of the undocumented residents in the United States are youth and young adults who arrived in America as children, and an additional 16.6 million people live in mixed-status families where at least one member is undocumented. It is important to recognize that anticipated changes to immigration policies will impact not only undocumented students but also permanent resident students concerned about their undocumented parents, relatives, friends and community members. These issues affect individuals from a wide range of ethnic, racial and national origins.
Educate yourself about the laws and policies that impact undocumented students’ educational access. Learn the details of your own state laws here. For example, in California, certain undocumented students can pay in-state tuition at public universities, and the California Dream Act makes state financial aid available to those students. We often find that students do not distinguish those laws from their DACA status, which leads to unnecessary anxiety. Review the recommendations provided by national organizations such as United We Dream and the National Immigration Law Center. Even after educating yourself, recognize your limitations and the high stakes involved for the student who is seeking your advice. It is better to say, “I don’t know,” than to give out misinformation.
Signal to students that you are supportive. Undocumented students often rely on stereotypes to identify faculty and staff members with whom they feel they can safely share their immigration status or ask for help. They may, for example, perceive that “coming out” to faculty members who identify as Latina/o, or as immigrants, presents less of a risk than disclosing their status to white or native-born citizen faculty members. In reality, of course, allies are found among people from all ethnic and racial backgrounds, but some of us may need to do a little more to provide students with verbal and/or visible cues that demonstrate that we are supportive of the undocumented student community. Many colleges and universities offer ally training and provide those that complete it with a sticker to exhibit in their office; do this if the opportunity is available to you. If not, you can signal that you are supportive by displaying flyers about immigration-related events or hanging immigration-related artwork. In your course syllabi, explain how you will accommodate immigration-related emergencies in terms of attendance, late work, extensions and incompletes. Although you may feel that is already described in your institution’s existing policies for medical or familial emergencies, making it explicit sends a powerful signal of both symbolic and concrete support for students confronting immigration crises.
(Re)consider how you discuss immigration-related issues and the current political climate in your classroom. Advise students in advance before initiating classroom discussions of immigration issues, especially if that is not on the agenda from the syllabus. Remind your students that you will be bring up topics that personally impact many people living in the United States and ask those students to frame their participation in ways that are respectful of different experiences and opinions. Avoid spotlighting individual students according to their citizenship status or immigrant background during class discussion. (For example: “Kim, as an immigrant, can you share how you feel about Trump’s proposal to deport three million criminal aliens?”)
Maintain student confidentiality and privacy. Do not refer to students’ citizenship or immigration status in public conversations or written communication. Only do so when necessary and with the students’ permission, such as when helping them identify resources or explaining their personal background in letters of recommendation.
Use appropriate terminology when discussing immigration issues. Many people find the terms “illegal immigration” and “illegal immigrant” offensive; they often prefer “undocumented” and “unauthorized.” Some students may also use the term “DREAMer,” originally a reference to the proposed federal DREAM Act, which would have provided undocumented students with a path to legalization but that now alludes to various state laws that provide educational access. But other students may reject that nomenclature because it suggests that undocumented students are more deserving of support than other undocumented people.
Provide resources that will help mediate the financial instability that many students will also be facing. A recent systemwide survey at the University of California conducted by one of us, Laura E. Enriquez, found that 63 percent of the undocumented students at the UC have experienced food insecurity during the past academic year. Thus, even a small measure can be helpful, such as offering healthy snacks like granola bars during office hours or meetings with students. You can also try to put course readings on library reserve so that students can devote their financial resources toward living expenses. It’s also good to find out and counsel students on whether they can access waivers for course materials fees or tutoring services. It is possible that undocumented students, many of whom are first-generation college students, do not know about these resources or that they may be inadvertently denied access to them.
You can also lobby for additional resources as needed. Encourage your institution to establish alternative legal forms of employment, internships or research opportunities to undocumented students lacking work authorization by providing payment via stipends or as independent contractors. Consider donating to scholarship and/or emergency funds for impacted students. If your campus doesn’t have one, help start one.
Offer career and graduate preparation opportunities. Undocumented students struggle to develop career-relevant work experience or access research opportunities to prepare for graduate school -- in some cases, because they are DACA ineligible and therefore lack the work authorization that allows them to accept paid internships or research assistantships; in other cases, it is because they are ineligible, as noncitizens, to apply for certain programs; and finally, it may be because, like other first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students, they lack the understanding or social capital that facilitates securing these kinds of positions. To that end, Enriquez’s survey of undocumented students in the UC system found that only 31 percent feel prepared to achieve their career goals, and only 49 percent have had a career-relevant experience like an internship or research opportunity. As faculty members and administrators, consider offering independent study courses, sponsoring research opportunities and identifying internships that are open regardless of immigration status. Work with your institution to figure out a method for paying immigrant students for their labor in these areas.
Identify, improve and refer students to campus and community resources. Immigrant students will probably need special guidance and encouragement to access academic resources, financial aid, legal services and mental-health counseling. Familiarize yourself with the resources available at your college or university and in your surrounding community. Identify knowledgeable staff members in relevant campus offices to whom you can refer students directly. Lobby your institution to identify, train and raise awareness of point people in various offices so that students can easily find them and access correct information. Enriquez’s survey also found that 56 percent of the undocumented students at the University of California report being given inaccurate or incorrect information from a staff member about how to complete a university procedure. If your institution does not have a staff member dedicated to supporting undocumented students, advocate for one.
Identify and raise awareness about your campus’s policies regarding undocumented students. Currently, U.S. immigration officials consider educational institutions, including colleges and universities, to be “sensitive locations” where enforcement actions “generally should be avoided.” You should try to identify under what circumstances you and others are your institution are legally required to share student information and provide access to immigration enforcement officers. Your institution should work with legal counsel to clearly lay out under what circumstances cooperation is required and designate a senior administrator to promptly respond to any staff or faculty members who receive information requests or visits from immigration enforcement officials. It should ensure that faculty members know whom to contact if they receive such requests or visits and publicize procedures for reporting and documenting hate speech and threatening incidents on the campus. It is important for campuses to assess their own situations in order to respond appropriately.
The actions that we’ve outlined are just a few ways that faculty members and administrators can provide support for students facing immigration-related crises. Although they are small steps, our research and work with students suggest that they can and do make a difference. We firmly believe that collaboration among students, faculty members and administrators is essential to supporting undocumented students and students from mixed-status families as we move forward.
Finally, despite the multiple -- often invisible -- ways undocumented people contribute to the U.S. economy and society, we think it is important to recognize that only a tiny percentage of undocumented people in the United States ever benefit from the opportunity to pursue a higher education. With this in mind, we encourage educators to also consider how they can support the broader undocumented immigrant population in their communities and nationwide.
Anita Casavantes Bradford is associate professor of Chicano/Latino studies and history at the University of California, Irvine. Laura E. Enriquez is assistant professor of Chicano/Latino studies at the University of California, Irvine. Susan Bibler Coutin is professor of criminology, law, and society and anthropology at the University of California, Irvine.
The campaign and transition period following the election of Donald Trump have affected our campuses in a variety of ways that challenge our basic values of diversity and inclusion and that demand our response as academic leaders. Incidents involving our new U.S. president -- such as making fun of a reporter with a physical disability, supporting the “locking up” of a presidential candidate with no recognition of the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” in the political environment, and others too numerous too name -- have apparently made some people on college campuses think it’s OK to express the same disregard for our fundamental rights and lack of respect for our fellow Americans.
Already a range of academics and institutions, including the American Anthropological Association, of which I am a past president, have spoken out against the increasing number of racist and misogynistic incidents and hate speech directed at others on our campuses.
But volatility and uncertainty on these issues seem likely to continue in the foreseeable future. Consider, for example, that Richard Spencer, leader of the so-called alt-right and spokesman for white nationalism, has announced plans to target campuses with a tour conveying the message, among other things, that “we are awesome … We should be trying to expand white privilege, not feel guilty about it.”
So what can institutions and individuals committed to social justice do to keep diversity and inclusion values and programs on the table for the next four years? I believe there are two overarching answers to this question. First, we must equip our students to understand the historical context of today’s social environment, how our democracy got to the point that we are so openly politically divided and focused on blaming our social ills on “others” who do not look like us or have the same religious or political beliefs. Second, we must reinforce the principle that embracing diversity and inclusion is the strength of our democracy, not its weakness, and that respecting difference is a first step.
While the challenges reverberate throughout our campuses, I am seeing at least four areas in which the Trump effect has exacerbated divisions among students, administrators and faculty members on our campuses and has created new, more intense imperatives for those committed to diversity. They are:
Support undocumented students. President Trump has previously said he will terminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive action signed into law by his predecessor Barack Obama in 2012 that exempts some undocumented immigrants from deportation and provides a two-year renewable work permit. The policy guidelines state that applicants must have been in the United States since June 15, 2007, and cannot have been convicted of certain crimes. In California, we have thousands of DACA students in our classes, and we are seeing their anxiety and panic as they try to figure out what is happening to them. The psychological effects are undermining their ability to concentrate on their studies.
At the University of California, Riverside, Chancellor Kim Wilcox has sent a letter to our entire campus confirming that we are not turning away from our commitment to DACA students. The heads of the University of California, California State University and California Community College systems together wrote to Trump “imploring” him to continue the DACA program so that affected students can “pursue their dream of higher education without fear of being arrested, deported or rounded up for just trying to learn.” And on our campus, we are also offering special counseling and flexible test-taking schedules for students who are traumatized by the environment of uncertainty. Such actions go a long way toward reassuring our undocumented students that we are doing all we can to help them finish their education.
Protect protesters on both sides of contentious issues. In light of the increasing manifestation on our campuses of views that are racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamophobic and misogynistic, we must strive to maintain an environment in which views on all points of the spectrum can be heard. At the same time, as faculty members, we must model for our students how it is possible to hold a set of values and beliefs, and how to listen to and acknowledge other points of view, even while not agreeing with them.
It is unfortunate that the words of our new president have sent a signal to some people that seems to validate this type of discriminatory and disrespectful behavior. But it is not acceptable, and we must continue to enforce our long-held policies and practices to counter this ugly and hateful turn of events. Our goal is to make the campus a safe space for all our students, not just for some. Some of the specific ways we can do that are to encourage activities such as teach-ins, campus-community forums, information workshops, vigils and peaceful demonstrations as alternatives to potentially violent public confrontations.
Prevent and enforce policies against sexual assault. Under the leadership of the Obama administration, especially with the passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, colleges and universities across the country have been strengthening their policies and practices to encourage students to report sexual harassment and sexual assault incidents. We are trying to deal with deeply misogynistic values and rape culture that discourage victims from reporting incidents and often results in failure to prosecute cases.
The campaign atmosphere suggesting that “stars” can get away with any sexual behavior they want sent a very negative message to our students, both to those who may commit assaults and to victims who are afraid to report them. We need to double down on our efforts to show all students, whether they are athletes, or members of fraternities, clubs or other organizations, that there is no place for sexual harassment or assault on our campuses. We need to provide opportunities, such as forums and other activities mentioned above, where students can ask the questions that are on their minds and express their anger, frustration and concerns.
Reinforce global learning and teaching. We have been preparing our students to live and work in the global community for at least two decades through our liberal arts curriculum. There is no going back! Our students are steeped in both local and global acts every day. Through their courses and other campus experiences, our job is to continue to help them see and understand those connections, as well as to understand and interact with people of other cultures, religions and worldviews.
One thing we have learned from the election is that families from the Rust Belt, the Deep South and the heartland believe that they have been denied participation in a positive vision for the future of this country. I am involved with two very promising international programs, the Global Citizenship Alliance and the Mellon Global Citizenship Program, that aim to educate working-class and first-generation students from those regions (both historically black colleges and universities and Appalachian colleges and universities working together) about how directly they are tied from their local communities to the wider world. The types of on-the-ground experiences that these programs offer are producing different thinking about empowerment and the ability to chart one’s future.
At the same time, we need to continue to encourage international student exchanges. This works in two directions. First, we need to take steps to ensure that students from other countries (for example, those from the Middle East who may be concerned about Islamophobia) will feel comfortable here. Second, we need to prepare the students we send abroad to stay safe and respond if they are challenged about our country’s and Trump’s policies. In other words, in an atmosphere where “globalization” is too often narrowly interpreted as an economic policy to destroy American jobs, our goal should continue to be to make teaching and learning about globalization beneficial for all.
Why We Must Act Now
It is important for us to act now because, foremost, the mission of our colleges and universities is quite different from the narrower two- or four-year agendas of a particular political administration. We are entrusted to create new knowledge and to educate the next generation of Americans to be the citizens who will lead this great experiment in inclusive democracy to the next level.
We need both collective and individual action. In California we have the commitment from leaders of our institutions. This provides us with the environment that we need as individual faculty members to support students who are caught up in the uncertainties of what the new administration will mean to them. But for all of us, throughout the landscape of higher education, we have to keep our focus on these goals of the value of diversity, inclusion and social justice and be the change we want to see -- regardless of who is at the helm of our country. The longer we wait, the more difficult the task will become.
Yolanda T. Moses is professor of anthropology and recent associate vice chancellor for Diversity, Excellence and Equity at the University of California, Riverside. She is a past president of the American Anthropology Association.
I do not live in a bubble, and one of the ways I work things out is to write. So I have put this piece together as a means of expiating my own grief over the results of the recent presidential election.
At first, I wanted to keep my mourning private, especially as my current role as a college president requires me to tread carefully and not give an institutional patina to my personal thoughts. I have also not wanted to invite the various trolls who consider my views like catnip. But I have come to the view that silence will probably cause greater harm to our country's immigrant students, particularly those "DREAMers" -- the hundreds of thousands of students in the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, who were brought to this country as children and have been allowed to attend college. The 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe allowed them to stay in school, while DACA gave them employment authorization, lawful presence and Social Security numbers. It is by no means legalization, but it has been a transformative program while Congress has fiddled over immigration reform.
Indeed, I have dedicated my entire life to many ideals, but the ones that matter the most were repudiated on election night. Since then, I have arranged over a dozen conference calls with DREAMers, immigration lawyers, college presidents and reporters. Many know I helped write the Texas statutes that give many of the DREAMers resident Texas tuition and financial aid. Inasmuch as I have taught higher education law and also immigration law for 35 years, these are my fields. I have won many more contests in this terrain than I have lost, but this one hurts, and I feel as if we all let down my students, a dereliction of duty that I feel deeply. I fear for the DACA students, many of them in my own institution, who placed their lives and hopes in higher education and the polity. I urged them to trust we would do the right thing if they took responsibility for their own lives by studying and coming forward. They have done so, but now we have not held up our part of the bargain.
In the wake of the election, a number of colleges and universities are declaring themselves "sanctuary campuses," saying they will limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities. However, the various proposals for carving out sanctuary campuses have occasioned even more vexation for me, and this viral-fed option is what finally moved me to write this article.
These well-intentioned efforts to establish a sanctuary use the term in its root ecclesiastic meanings, such as providing safe harbor. But from whom?
"Sanctuary" is also a contronym -- an example of a single word that has opposite meanings. ("Sanction" is another.) To many folks, the term depicts a defiance of law and serves as a trope for unauthorized immigration and liberal pieties. That it has become tinged with racist and anti-Mexican sentiment renders the term even more poisonous. One person's safe harbor is another person's harboring, in the dueling metaphors, if not the actual immigration law.
My view on these proposals is that they provide a chimerical outlet for people who are frustrated and have no other pathways to ameliorate the situation. But the term "sanctuary" is a term that is too fraught with restrictionist meanings or misunderstandings about the difference between "defying the law" or choosing not to implement discretionary practices, for policy, efficacy or other reasons. Worse, it has no legal meaning and the admonitions are vague and impossible to implement, which will only frustrate people more.
I have urged all those people who have called me to be very cautious in suggesting that a legal cocoon is possible or even needed for students -- who, after all, are not lawbreakers. Of course, institutions should provide support and services, as they would for all their students, especially vulnerable ones. But exacting pledges that cannot be kept will do no one any good.
And there are longstanding rules of engagement, or, in this context, nonengagement in higher education, such as the current Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy on such enforcement. As it notes, schools and colleges are exceedingly low priorities, and forms of this policy have been in place for many years. Virtually no campus has ever been raided for students in unauthorized status or undocumented campus workers, and they are unlikely to be.
But just as I cannot tell you how to react to any rollbacks of the Affordable Care Act, I cannot tell people what could happen and what the alternatives are. I know it will not be good, if for no other reason than it has already exposed vulnerable populations -- who are not "criminal," and who actually may be lawfully present (such as DACA holders) or in legal status (such as F-1 students from Muslim countries).
And I cannot promise these students that positive results will come of all this. I have urged them to be careful in expressing themselves in ways that might give rise to thermodynamic reactions, as have begun to surface. Getting arrested and convicted of any transgressions would give real rise to possibilities of deportation. And they should be careful about using social media in a way that might expose their parents to possible harm. I will not urge them to march into the valley of death or to put themselves at risk, although I will agree that the peaceful marchas galvanized public attention in 2006. American citizens who urge this option for DREAMers should examine their consciences and not encourage these students to put themselves in harm's way. At the very least, we should do no harm.
Feel-good actions and solidarity are fine and have an important place in the civil-rights narrative. But I do not hold out hope that the sanctuary proposals will make any genuine change or provide actual sanctuary -- whatever that empty vessel means to anyone on either side of the issue. And so I prefer more meaningful actions, such as working with student groups and their supporters: advocacy groups, bar associations, social service agencies, philanthropies and the usual support infrastructures for colleges and communities. The University of Houston Law Center, where I have spent most of my professional life, has stepped up, and my colleagues and law students are providing technical assistance and advice, as have many of my immigration law professor colleagues.
I ride with my students in the university's elevators every day, and it always is a life-affirming experience, as so many are first-generation students, immigrants and students of color. When they recognize me, they relate their experiences and their triumphs and concerns. In the last two weeks, they have actually cheered me up -- not for the first time. I have dedicated my entire life to them, and they have reciprocated. One of them sensed my own dread and said to me, "Llegamos tan cerca (We came very close)."
What can we do? We still have more than 20 states in this country that provide resident tuition for the undocumented. But the students' trajectory would clearly be altered if DACA were abolished or allowed to expire. It would be a foolish and tragic policy to demonize and deport these DREAMers, even as their parents have been criminalized in the narrative. We need these students, and they surely need us now. Can't we all agree that comprehensive immigration reform is overdue 30 years since the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986? If we want to do something constructive, such advocacy has never been more necessary.
That will be a tremendous fight, under the circumstances. But these students in whom we have invested should be at the front of that line, when Congress recognizes its responsibilities. That is where we should all focus our efforts.
Many community groups work to assist immigrants; two of them are directed by formers students of mine, and two others employ former students. All are 501(c)3 organizations, and donations to them are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.
Forty years ago, I was assigned to teach “Open Enrollment English” at the City College of the City University of New York. The course was classified as remedial, and credits were non-additive.
Walking sprightly and empty-headed into the class, I found one-third of them were off the boat from Hong Kong, one-third off the boat from San Juan, and most of the other third off boats from Palermo, Porto and Gdansk (remember: this was 1970). The first writing assignment produced three different versions of English, and I had no idea where they came from -- or how.
The Chinese guys in the back row were always heads down, thumbing through dictionaries. What I now know to be their lexical transitions were pretty good, but there wasn’t a preposition to be found in their papers. No kidding!
The girls from Gdansk showed hard silent faces, splattered their pages with diacritics, but left no trace of articles. No kidding! I half-understood the guys from San Juan jabbering in Spanglish and felt good about it, but they wrote that way, too. Most of what I learned about all this happened much later. I walked into that class as a thorough naif.
A scan of the usual panic headlines of the past decade will easily turn up “perfect storms,” “tsunamis,” and other dire weather patterns lying in the future of higher education. Some of these are covers for race/ethnicity mix change, others for the deleterious effects of app addictions, and still others for the rise of economic inequalities. I have a shelf for the publications and reports bearing such Jeremiadic news and threats. It’s labeled, “the usual,” and includes more sophisticated but even darker analyses of “separation,” “undereducation,” “stopped progress,” and “crises” strewn about like dead flower petals.
However well-intentioned, these analyses have the effect of telling large groups of higher education students and potential students that they are lacking something, or that “our future would be brighter if only we addressed something you are lacking.”
Really? One numbs at such absence of self-reflection: the writers simply don’t listen carefully to what they are saying between the words. Had they configured the population in a different way, they might have toned down the damning that seeps through their lines.
I am not offering another “usual” today. I am not a siren of ominous effects. Rather, I want to detail a different set of populations that were with us in that 1970 classroom, are with us more now (and even increasing in the future), and that require analyses and guidance in a key other than that offered by the storm literature.
We are going to use languages, not race or family income, as a template. And we’re not assuming that U.S. resident students from non-English-dominant backgrounds are de facto remedial and bound for failure. In fact, quite the reverse.
But that depends on a variety of factors, most of which the research, policy and pundit establishment in higher education has not bothered to map. We will know better what to do if we know more about the experiences and conditions through which these distinct populations cross the line between fluency in conversational English and the literacy constitutive to the reading and writing of English.
“Ways” and “extent,” in turn, depend on the language at issue, and the intensity of language conditioning, environment and maintenance. The Chinese guys at CCNY in 1970 didn’t know from diacritics; the Polish girls were loaded with prepositions. Such belated knowledge is a metaphor that opens a key door to assist advisers and faculty naifs such as I once was. If I had known better and more about my students’ language crossings, I could have done better by them.
This nation of immigrants enfolds roughly 350 languages spoken by 60.5 million people. Among those whose dominant language is other than English, we know native speakers of Spanish are the largest group (37.5 million), with recent Spanish-speaking immigrants more likely to be monolingual Spanish than those long-established in the U.S., e.g., from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and, in the Southwest, descendants of the conquistadores who have been here since the 16th century.
But in addition to Spanish, over 1 million U.S. residents speak each of the following languages (in order of frequency): Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, French (not Creole, but including immigrants from Francophone West Africa, who may also speak a native African language, e.g. from Senegal, Waloof), Korean, and German. Nearly 1 million speak either Arabic or Russian. In addition, we have between 500,000 and 900,000 speaking (in order) Creole French, Italian, Portuguese, Hindi, and Polish, and notable (though smaller) recent immigrant groups coming initially as refugees, speaking Hmong, Serbo-Croatian, Laotian, Cambodian, Farsi, and Somali. Hardly “immigrant,” but notable, are the 169,000 speakers of Navajo, the largest home language group by far among Native Americans.
More important for our purposes than the number of speakers is the proportion of each language group that the American Community Survey (ACS) has determined as not speaking English at all or not speaking English well. For the record, the top 10 ratios, by native language, are:
Seven of these are Asian languages, and, with the exception of Vietnamese and Spanish, all use scripts other than the Roman alphabet of English (I am including Hmong among these, even though some contend that, historically, there was no written language that could be called “Hmong”). Putting these together with 2010 Census data, that means there are 9.7 million native speakers of Spanish and 2.1 million native speakers of the other 9 languages all living in the United States and not speaking English. The ACS does not provide data on reading or writing English, but one can reasonably assume that the list of 20-plus-percent proportion of limited-English-language populations, by native language, would be a lot longer and more diverse if ACS included orthographic considerations in reading and writing. Literacy, to repeat, is distinct from audio/lingual fluency. We are thinking of the children in these groups and of these groups, and of the magnitude and linguistic elements of generational literacy shift in each language group.
The overall data necessary to estimate what higher education is seeing and will see are fragmented and difficult. The oldest rigorous data on the proportion of non-English dominant speakers in the 12th grade and teetering on entrance to higher education are from the National Center for Education Statistics’ High School & Beyond/Sophomore Cohort longitudinal study: 5 percent. But a body of 12th-graders does not capture what higher education will eventually count, so we need some further and more contemporary guidance. The children of current non-English dominant households entered the U.S. at different stages of life (including being born in the U.S.), entered school at different times, and had to learn English as a fulcrum of their schooling. When they arrive in higher education, then, they are not wholly bereft of the world’s default second language. The basic figures from the NCES Beginning Postsecondary Students longitudinal study of 2003-2009, which covers entering students of all ages, excluding foreign students in the U.S. on visas, are as follows:
Children of Immigrants
English Not Primary Language
All entering students
Dividing these groups by age at entrance to higher education (the most significant demographic variable in the standard universe of such variables) does not change these proportions much at all. The dividing age year used was 20. And since the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition tells us that the number of English language learners enrolled in ELL courses in pre-collegiate education was 5.3 million in 2005-6 (and 5.3 million does not account for all second language students), the challenge to higher education to mark the extent of their participation and state of their English language use eight years later is even greater than what these data -- reflecting a considerable increase of the proportion of non-English dominant students since the 5 percent of the High School & Beyond/Sophomore Cohort as seniors in 1982 -- say of 2003.
These are not small proportions of the entering postsecondary population, and their progress and degree completion rates (lower than those of native speakers of English by roughly 6 percent) may well be influenced by their language status and various aspects of their language histories. Languages obviously differ, and differ in terms of their similarities to English, in terms of morphology, orthography, and phonology. Non-English-speaking environments also differ in terms of saturation of second language media, Internet use by immigrants, and concentrations of commerce serving local populations. Too, language maintenance traditions vary for each of these immigrant groups. We have a history of language maintenance dating to German-speaking immigrants in the Midwest in the mid-19th century. Unless countries are officially bilingual or trilingual (Canada, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, and Switzerland, for noted examples in the West), you don’t see much formal language maintenance elsewhere. How much we still practice, and in what forms, is something our current second language students in higher education will tell us if and when we get to interview them with a consortium of teams advised by second language acquisition experts (see below).
Most importantly, some immigrant cultures and their languages are concentrated in very specific regions of the United States. Institutions of higher education that serve these geographic areas are thus more likely than others to witness enrollments of specific language background groups. For example, the greater San Francisco area is more likely to provide for students from Tagalog-speaking backgrounds; greater Minneapolis-St. Paul for Somali and Hmong speakers; San Jose and Houston for Vietnamese; greater Miami for Luzo-Portuguese (Brazilian); the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles and Flushing in Queens for two very different socioeconomic groups of Chinese; Russians in Brooklyn; Wayne County in Michigan for Arabic speakers; and while they are located everywhere, particularly concentrated populations of Spanish speakers in South Texas and the Central Valley of California.
Why is this geo-demography important? Because when you get in your car to gather information that just might help folks get further down the education thruway, it helps to know precisely where you’re going.
In this case, I propose, we can find captured populations among students from specific second language backgrounds who are recent enrollees in colleges and community colleges in the geo-demographic target areas, and ask them a series of questions on family language background and use, and on their own experiences moving through the chain from language 1 to language 2. One needs college partners in those areas, of course, both to identify the students of interest and to urge them to take an online survey consuming no more than 30 minutes. Do we know whether sufficient numbers of students can be found to answer our questions and begin to provide guidance? No, but our chances are better with geo-demographic targeting.
I’ve got a survey for first- and second-year college students ready to roll to a second language acquisition review panel. It seeks to document features and dominances of language use in the student’s household, peer groups, and work environments, the student’s language transition experiences in high school and early college months, first language maintenance, and focuses on areas of linguistic friction between first language and English.
What we have learned from the self-assessment forms of Europass (designed to enhance cross-border mobility in the labor market) is that voluntary respondents (and there have been about 600,000 in Europe to date who have completed “language passports”) are very honest and forthcoming about what they can do and how well in languages other than that from which they emerged, in what environments they learned second and third languages, and how.
We are less interested in language 1 to language 2 issues such as transfer, semantic judgments, code switching, and speech registers since we would not be asking questions on these well-trod paths of second language acquisition research.
At a time when immigration policy is on the front desks of legislators, we are more interested in story lines, promising and limiting, and commonalities as well as differences by language group. The end product would be a portrait that every institution serving similar students can use, for the benefit of future students, and not merely in “Open Enrollment English” classes, either. Those students, as I learned in 1970, are not remedial.
Clifford Adelman is a senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy.
Over the past few years, partisanship in Washington has grown to the point that few substantive bills become law. The partisan divide at times seems insurmountable. Immigration reform has a chance to be a rare bipartisan exception.
Our nation has long prided itself on being a land of opportunity for those seeking a better life. With time, however, our immigration system has broken down. The system neither fairly serves those who want to come here nor maximizes the economic opportunities that immigrants can provide for this nation.
Recognizing this, Congress may finally act. While the U.S. House of Representatives is still developing legislation, immigration reform is steadily moving forward in the Senate where a bipartisan "Gang of Eight" drafted a strong bill that is serving as the legislative foundation. The Senate is currently debating amendments to this proposal with a vote on the overall measure expected this week.
This bill deserves the full support of higher education because it presents an extraordinary opportunity for our nation, including colleges and universities whose missions to promote education, research and economic growth will be advanced with immigration reform. Those of us in higher education must seize this moment to urge our senators to pass this bill. While the situation seems ripe for agreement, we know far too well that even the smallest bumps in the road can cause this process to unravel. It’s critical to underscore that a well-stocked pool of talent at American universities will feed directly into American businesses and create new ones that will help power our nation’s economy forward. The more we collectively make the case for the economic benefits of reform, the better the chances for overwhelming passage.
The bipartisan bill moving steadily through the Senate is filled with an array of provisions that have been long overdue. The measure establishes an expedited pathway to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. These young people are here through no decision of their own and 65,000 of them graduate from U.S. high schools each year. They should have a process in place to become citizens. And they also should have the opportunity to go to their states' public colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates at the state’s discretion while participating in federal student loan and work study programs. The Senate bill would make all of this possible.
The Gang of Eight and many others also recognize the economically self-defeating policy of training the best international STEM students at U.S. universities only to force them to leave for no reason other than a lack of employment visas. To fix this, the bill streamlines and expands the green card process and eliminates many of the current system’s worst features. To be fair, there are some further improvements the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) would still like to see made either through the amendment process now or in conjunction with action in the House, such as ensuring that agriculture, natural resource, and other science fields are included within the definition of STEM. Nevertheless, overall the provisions in the bill are a vast improvement from the current system.
And just as important as having the best and brightest students in our classrooms is having the top professors from around the world to teach them. APLU and our fellow higher education associations worked very hard to successfully secure an amendment to rid the bill of several bureaucratic hurdles that would impede some universities utilizing the H-1B visa process that authorizes such temporary work. As a result of advocacy efforts with federal relations officers of many universities, higher education associations, and the critical support of the Gang of Eight, the bill no longer places some universities within a suspect class of H-1B users considered H-1B skilled worker dependent employers.
Those opposed to immigration reform are aggressively working to derail any action. They are calling, e-mailing, tweeting, mailing, faxing, and doing everything they can to overwhelm House and Senate offices in order to block reform. To counter that, the higher education community must unite and let our lawmakers know that those other voices do not represent the majority of Americans.
The Senate bill includes most of the changes those of us in the higher education community have been seeking for the past several decades. Now that we find them included in a comprehensive immigration bill making its way through Congress we cannot allow this chance to slip away. Doing so is important for higher education, but most of all it is important for our country.
Peter McPherson is president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.