What is the Role of Teachers in the US Struggle over Mexican and Central American Immigration?

This month we published Teacher Leadership for Social Change in Bilingual and Bicultural Education by Deborah K. Palmer. In this post she explains how teachers give her hope during the political struggle over immigration along the US southern border. 

I believe that in the United States we will look back upon these years as a dark time in our history. The political struggle over immigration along our southern border has led to more and more direct and blatant attacks on human rights, not only from angry reactionary citizens but from the government and its institutions. Since 2016 there has been an uptick in scapegoating of immigrants, Muslims, Latinas/os, and people of color. At this point, documented neo-Nazis and White Supremacists occupy official roles in the Trump White House and are running for public office in the upcoming election, and President Trump’s appointed attorney general Jeff Sessions – the official charged with protecting civil rights – has a long history of racist stances.

At the same time, for many years US foreign policy in Mexico and Central America has contributed to increases in gang- and drug-related violence, which in turn continues to drive more and more people – often unaccompanied youth and families with young children – to seek safety in the United States. Mr. Sessions and the Trump administration have moved toward a “zero tolerance” policy toward these immigrants and refugees.

I find this concept, “zero tolerance”, to be emblematic of Trump’s era in our country. Why would so many Americans, most of whose ancestors came into the country as religious or economic refugees, embrace an ideology of intolerance?

As a teacher educator and former bilingual teacher, I constantly ask myself what is the role of teachers – particularly bilingual teachers – in the face of “zero tolerance”? In truth, elementary bilingual education and ESL teachers offer me hope. These are professionals on the front lines of our immigration crisis, working every day with the children and families who are the target of the worst attacks. Critically conscious teachers engaging in culturally sustaining pedagogies, give their students a safe and welcoming space every day where they can learn and grow, where they are not merely “tolerated” but fully embraced and welcomed in the United States.

Teachers have long inspired me. Whenever I am concerned about the state of the world, I turn to critically-engaged teachers, and draw inspiration from their work. The work of teachers is complex and multi-faceted; teaching well, and teaching diverse multilingual communities of children, requires a wide range of skills and dispositions. In my work with experienced teachers seeking their master’s degrees, I’ve begun to notice some patterns: teachers who are successful at creating and enacting curriculum that will support diverse students’ identities and build their academic skills all seem to share at least the following characteristics: they are willing to take risks and take stands; they are deeply reflective and aware of larger systems of oppression and the tools to counter oppression; and they network and connect with other teachers, families and communities to find the resources they need.

For example, a pair of fourth grade teachers in Austin, Texas developed a curricular unit on the topic of immigration that integrates high quality multilingual/multicultural children’s literature with their students’ own families’ stories to engage students and their families in a month-long exploration of history/language arts/geography. One of these teachers, working with her school librarian, has developed a webpage offering resources for locating and using culturally-relevant literature for the elementary classroom. Another former pre-kindergarten teacher from Austin has moved into full-time activism as a union organizer and has organized resources to put on periodic citizenship drives for the immigrant community. A team of dual language bilingual teacher coaches from Round Rock, Texas (outside Austin) worked together within the leadership structures of their traditionally English-dominant school district to offer all their growing population of Spanish-speaking students – and many of their English-speaking students too – a strong, enriching dual language bilingual education program.

Teachers are so often the ones who build systems both within and beyond their classrooms to ensure their students can adapt and grow in their new homes. Bilingual teachers in particular are bridges; they are advocates for their immigrant students, and they are among our best ambassadors.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Restrictive Language Policy in Practice by Amy J. Heineke.

Language, Immigration and Naturalization

This month we are publishing Language, Immigration and Naturalization edited by Ariel Loring and Vaidehi Ramanathan. In this post, Ariel introduces the main themes of the book

Language, Immigration and NaturalizationLanguage, immigration, and naturalization – the title of this book in fact – are three topics with a steady influence across both time and space. Historically, language policies and ideologies have affected, and continue to affect, immigration and naturalization laws, immigration quotas, citizenship tests and nationalistic discourse. Geographically, recent world events have ignited impassioned disagreements concerning im(migration) and national borders. Prior research on citizenship has been embedded in numerous fields of inquiry (including applied linguistics, sociology, education, legal studies and policy studies) and often views “citizenship” through its legal definition of “rights and responsibilities.” What characterizes this volume is its holistic consideration of citizenship in terms of access, participation, engagement and culture.

Our edited volume not only considers the everyday legalities of naturalization but also broader identity and sociopolitical concerns. Its chapters are organized into three subsections – Policies, Pedagogies and Discourses – and includes discussions about:

  • The means by which a particular country accepts naturalized citizens
  • The language of citizenship tests and classes
  • The labeling of who is or isn’t a “citizen” or “member” of society
  • The lived experiences of immigrants in bordered areas
  • The depictions of citizenship and immigration in media discourse

The authors pursue these topics from various research backgrounds and in different areas of the world. Collectively, they explore the experiences of immigrants/outsiders as they make a life in their adopted/native country. In addressing these issues, the following three questions come to light:

  • What does the process of becoming a citizen look like?
  • In what ways are people excluded from full participation?
  • How does language position and frame insiders and outsiders?

We, the editors, are drawn to this research because of the universality of immigration and naturalization issues and the debates and policies that ensue. We realize that even those who live far from a national border are still exposed to political language that dehumanizes migrants and fears differences. And those who themselves are descendants of immigrants are able to rationalize the exclusion of new immigrants. As ramifications of citizenship and naturalization are infused in everyday meaning-making and constructions of identity, this volume brings a needed critical and linguistic lens to these topics.

Ariel Loring, University of California, Davis and California State University, Sacramento, USA
afloring@ucdavis.edu

Refugee Resettlement in the United StatesFor more information about this book please see our website or contact the Ariel Loring at the address above. If you found this interesting, you might also like Refugee Resettlement in the United States edited by Emily M. Feuerherm and Vaidehi Ramanathan.

How are refugees’ experiences shaped by language and policy?

In December we published Refugee Resettlement in the United States edited by Emily M. Feuerherm and Vaidehi Ramanathan. In this post, Emily introduces the main themes of the book and examines the discourse of refugee resettlement in the US.

The plight of refugees and asylum seekers has been making headlines for the past couple of years. In the summer of 2014, the unprecedented number of unaccompanied Central American minors crossing the Southern US border reignited the moral panic about ‘illegal’ immigration and the validity of asylum cases. In 2015, images and stories of Syrian refugees fleeing a violent war in their home country was juxtaposed against receiving countries’ attitudes towards this vulnerable, displaced population.

Refugee Resettlement in the United StatesThe US is geographically removed from many of the effects of the wars in the Middle East, and so has seen fewer refugees and asylum seekers from this region than Europe has over the past year. Nevertheless, the recent terrorist attacks in Paris pushed US politicians and policy makers to redouble their concern over borders and migrants, particularly focusing on refugees and asylum seekers from Syria, Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries. Now, politicians are calling for a ban (or at least more stringent background checks) on refugees being accepted from the Middle East, while at the same time there is a surge in raids identifying and deporting Central Americans seeking asylum in the US.

With all of these discourses around refugee resettlement, this volume uncovers and critically analyzes the language, policies and pedagogies that contextualize refugees’ experiences in the US. The volume brings together researchers from several fields within the social and educational sciences with original research on the state of refugees in the US. Although several of the chapters are situated in specific geographical locations, their insights elucidate the contested nature of the language, policies, and pedagogies that position refugees and asylum seekers within (and outside of) our society.

The language around refugeehood is explored in several contexts in this volume: the use of refugee, alien and immigrant in US media compared to the Immigration and Nationality Act (chapter 2); the various ways that the word refugee is appropriated or rejected by populations to which it is ascribed (chapter 3); and the discursive construction of refugees used by organizations responsible for their resettlement (chapter 9). Educational policies are also discussed at many scales: national and state educational policies directed specifically to refugees (chapter 4); higher education policies meant to support refugee background students (chapter 7); and local classroom policies in an elementary school English Language Development class (chapter 8). The chapters on pedagogies of teaching refugee adults highlights the need for building upon refugees’ strengths at the programmatic (chapter 5) and individual levels (chapter 10), as well as critically examining refugees’ “need” for English (chapter 6).

Ramanathan titlesYou can find more information about the book on our website. You might also be interested in Vaidehi’s other books on refugees: Language Policies and (Dis)Citizenship and Language, Immigration and Naturalization.

Language Policies and (Dis)Citizenship

Earlier this month we published Language Policies and (Dis)Citizenship edited by Vaidehi Ramanathan. Here Vaidehi tells us a bit more about the book and how she came to write it.

Language Policies and (Dis)CitizenshipThe primary impetus for this edited volume is my growing dissatisfaction with the ways in which the term ‘citizenship’ is being conceptualized and used both by the media and by scholars in the discipline. It seems to me that much discussion ends up in debates about ‘border controls,’ ‘citizenship tests,’ and ‘tighter immigration checks.’ Visas, passports, and securing territories undergird these arguments, and while these are important, missing from the deliberations is the idea that perhaps concerns around refugee resettlements or (illegal) immigration cannot be the object of purely juridical treatment (at legislative or regulatory levels). Perhaps we need to shift our foci to where we begin openly engaging with what is at stake in the articulations and tensions around terms such as ‘citizens’ and ‘citizenship,’ issues that can emerge only through grounded explorations. Certainly, the various essays in this volume prompt us into doing exactly this. Focusing on the backstory behind ‘citizenship’ allows us to zoom in on what citizenship permits, namely access to fuller participation. It also allows us to address (dis)citizenship and local contexts where fuller participation does not happen. This term—(dis)citizenship—is one used by Pothier and Devlin (2006) in their work on disability rights and policies, and while I have drawn on it in my research on disabilities, I find that it fits well in my current thinking about language policies and citizenship. It permits one to ask: What contexts of (dis)citizenship are we blind to? What roles do language policies and pedagogies play?

Because the focus of the volume is on ‘(dis)citizening,’ I wanted it comprised of authors who have known what it is like to not be able to participate fully. Toward this end it seemed fitting to have the contributors be primarily women (there is one male co-author) since women the world over have a historicized understanding of what it is like to not have access to full participation. Furthermore, I was trying to bring several different research domains together to address (dis)citizenship, including scholarship on pedagogies and language policies, and I found as I was making my list of possible contributors that female applied linguists have done some of the best work. (I was surprised to find that we don’t have more volumes made up only of women authors!)

Regarding each of the essays: ‘(Dis)citizening,’ flows thickly as a subtext through each piece. Every essay articulates nuanced language-related political and historical concerns. Each one, in a very different way, addresses larger political questions around modernizing, late modernity, or postcolonial concerns. The authors situate their scholarship in diverse parts of our planet (Zimbabwe, Australia, the UK, and the US, among others) and offer situated accounts about very local contexts (courtrooms, refugee centers, classrooms, teacher-education contexts, heritage centers) that point to the inter-relationality between languages, policies, pedagogies and citizenship. The volume consists of two sections, with the first one addressing issues of challenging and transforming discourses about citizenship (with chapters by Makoni, Matsuda and Chatwara, Feuerherm, Menard-Warwick, Punti and King and McCarty) and the second addressing issues of education, learning and citizenship (with essays by Sagoo, Widin and Yasukawa, Loring, Menken and Henze and Coelho).

This volume is intended to make us see that democracies historically built up through structural inequalities are not abstract categories but ones built up through particular historical processes encased in regimes of power (whether that is power associated with countries, institutions, languages, or pedagogic practices). Citizenship, as we argue, has as much to do with enacting civic citizenship and being active citizens so as to create contexts of fuller participation, as it does with legalities around visas and passports.

For more information on this book please see our website.

Our Christmas charities

This Christmas we are pleased to be donating to two charities who we feel are particularly deserving of our support.

CARAThe Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) is an independent national charity that defends persecuted academics and assists them in rebuilding their lives and careers in safety. Our contribution will help CARA to provide refugees with education, training and employment advice as well as financial support for their research or training.

Tourism For AllTourism For All is a UK charity dedicated to making tourism accessible for everyone, especially older and disabled people. Our donation will help to allow people with disabilities, their families and carers to have the holiday they deserve.