Sequestration’s Toll on Immigrants and Our Shared Future


Two girls at the U.S.-Mexico Border crossing. Photo by Flickr user Bosquet, used under a Creative Commons License (cc-by-sa 2.0)

Here’s what the scaremongers think they know about sequestration and immigration: that hundreds of undocumented criminal aliens will be let loose and hundreds more will swarm through our unsecured borders, steal American jobs, and abuse our welfare system. Setting aside the facts that many being released from detention are guilty of only minor infractions, that net migration from Mexico is practically nonexistent, and that immigrants give more than they take, the vast majority of immigrants in the United States are legal permanent residents or naturalized citizens. These nearly 30 million people will certainly be set back by meat cleaver­–like sequestration cuts. And that should be of concern to all of us.

One federal program for which immigrants are eligible is Head Start, which offers competitive grants for comprehensive early childhood services for low-income children and families. Under sequestration, Head Start funds will be cut by as much as $622 million, which translates to over 96,000 fewer children served.

The automatic cuts to education, however, will have ripple effects throughout the economy. Children of immigrants are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. According to an Urban Institute study, they account for nearly the entire growth in the country’s child population during the past two decades. As of 2010, one in four children in the United States lives in an immigrant family.

This considerable demographic shift will have major social, political, and economic implications for the country. In less than a decade, today’s immigrant children will make up a large proportion of new workers, taxpayers, and voters who will bear the responsibility of supporting aging baby boomers. It is crucial, then, to provide quality education for these children.

A functional and successful public education system can help secure economic and social parity for immigrant children and their families by giving students a solid foundation for higher education and subsequent gainful employment. This in turn can promote intergenerational mobility for immigrant groups. Ultimately, better mobility means a more productive economy and much-needed revenue for the government.

Poorly funded public schools can widen existing economic and social gaps between racial and ethnic groups and between haves and have-nots by denying disadvantaged students the educational foundation they need to progress. Educating immigrant children, however, is and will be daunting for public schools due to the schools’ diminished capacities and increased accountability burdens coupled with the linguistic and cultural challenges unique to immigrant students.

English proficiency is a significant barrier. Two in five immigrant children are English language learners, and three in four live in households where no one older than 13 speaks English proficiently. In addition, many immigrants have limited financial resources. Children in immigrant families make up close to a third of the nation’s poor children and a similar proportion of the nation’s low-income children. Five in ten immigrant children live in low-income families, compared with four in ten native-born children.

This tenuous situation will be exacerbated by cuts in discretionary spending for federal education programs. Title I grants to local education agencies—a cornerstone program designed to help all students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, meet high academic standards—are to be slashed by a whopping $1.1 billion. This will leave 1.8 million fewer students served, among whom are hundreds of thousands of immigrant children. English language acquisition state grants, which help English language learners and recent immigrant students learn English and become proficient in academic content standards, are to be cut by over $57 million, resulting in over 350,000 fewer immigrant students assisted.

Coupled with state budget shortfalls (which can only worsen when the federal cuts kick in), sequestration will set immigrant children and their families further back. If so much of our future workforce falls behind now, all of us will face the consequences in the not-too-distant future.

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blogthe Huffington Post, and Feet in 2 Worlds.

The Right Funds for Reinvestment

Note: This article originally appeared in Voices in Urban Education 32 (Winter 2012), “Civic Investment in Public Education,” produced collaboratively by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and Public Education Network (PEN) and based on the work of PEN’s National Commission on Civic Investment in Public Education Commission’s work and on its 2011 report An Appeal to All Americans.

Current economic and social realities make it hard for public education to thrive and succeed, but organizations that support public education are helping many communities reinvest in our shared future.



President John Adams, a former teacher, wrote in a letter to John Jebb in 1785: The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves (Adams 1856).

Sadly, we have not collectively taken on the responsibility of educating all our children. There is a lack of political will to compel people to pay enough taxes to support public schools (Kober 2007). Public education has therefore failed to meet its mission of advancing the common good.

Nonetheless, communities can still band together and support public schools and school districts. Kober (2007) reminds us that in the 1830s, “little by little, public schools took hold in communities, often because the local people, rather than politicians, demanded them.” It is contingent upon communities now, as it was then, to ensure and sustain public education for all its members. Public schools will continue to flounder unless we all pitch in. In this article, I describe the growing number of local nonprofit organizations that are mobilizing their communities to do just that.

Chronic Funding Shortages

These are trying times for public schools. As many Americans remain unemployed or underemployed and most of us live in constant anxiety about our financial future, state and local coffers remain bare. Programs and services have been cut across the board in most municipalities, and public education has not been spared.

Article PDF [13 pages]


New Jersey Universities Inaugurate Immigrant Presidents

October 15, 2011; Source: NJ.comA. Gabriel Esteban, 49, became the 20th president of Seton Hall University.  The first non-clergy to hold the post since the 1980s, Esteban is also the first Filipino-American head of a major U.S. university.  Nariman Farvardin, 54 and a native of Iran, was chosen as the seventh president of Stevens Institute of Technology.

Esteban arrived in California in 1988 and earned his doctorate in administration from the University of California at Irvine.  He had been serving as Seton Hall’s interim president when the board made the position permanent in January.

Farvardin came to the U.S. during the Iranian revolution and earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. He was serving as provost at the University of Maryland before taking over the reins of Stevens Institute of Technology.

Their stories are just two among the many immigrant tales of success born out of opportunity, hard work, and belief in the American Dream.

Farvardin, who barely spoke English when he first arrived, said, “I thank this magnificent and welcoming country for giving me a new home, for extending helping arms when I needed them, for allowing me to build a career in a way I could not have possibly built anywhere else in the world.”

Both men are examples of what good education can provide for immigrants and ultimately for the country. Esteban and Farvardin are responsible for steering the academic lives of thousands of students.

“In this country, maybe more so than anywhere else in the world, education has proven to be the great equalizer and allowed upward mobility,” Esteban said. “Education has become a symbol of hope.”

Education continues to be the path many see as the way to improving their fortunes and ensuring their children’s future, especially among those who give up so much to pursue the American Dream. Unfortunately, there are those who would deny deserving and hard-working immigrants the opportunity.

Perhaps the ascent of Esteban and Favardin will help remind all of us that immigrants do come to partake in America’s promise and also to help build a better future for all.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 17, 2011.

Maryland’s DREAM Act Deferred

Washington’s inability to reform the country’s immigration system has left state lawmakers little choice but to address constituents’ immigration concerns themselves. The National Council of State Legislatures reports that during the first half of this year, 1,592 immigration-related bills and resolutions were introduced in the 50 states and Puerto Rico. That’s 16 percent more than in the same period last year. Most of these initiatives dealt with law enforcement, identification/driver’s licenses and employment.

Nine states went farther, though, passing education laws, mainly related to in-state tuition eligibility and financial assistance for immigrant populations. In May, Maryland’s General Assembly approved its version of the DREAM Act, which Gov. Martin O’Malley promptly signed.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was first introduced a decade ago by U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) and has since been introduced regularly but has yet to pass Congress. The statute would allow undocumented immigrants under 35 who came to the US before age 16 and earned a high school degree or its equivalent to apply for legal permanent resident status after living here for at least five years. Then, if they complete at least two years of college or military service and abide by the laws, they can apply for permanent legal status after a six-year wait.

Maryland’s DREAM Act is narrower and offers no path to citizenship. It merely establishes in-state tuition eligibility for undocumented youth who went to a state high school for at least three years and can prove that their parents pay taxes. After a couple of years in community college, these young immigrants can transfer to a public university.

Maryland’s DREAM Act was to have become law on July 1. But opponents managed to gather over 100,000 signatures for a petition, almost double the number needed to halt its implementation. The law will now be put up to a vote in a referendum in November 2012.

Those who signed the petition contend that Maryland shouldn’t and can’t afford to subsidize the education of undocumented youth. The Act’s supporters accuse the petition’s authors of using misleading information to get people to sign up and argue that the state’s DREAM Act grants undocumented students only some of the rights enjoyed by other high school graduates.

An estimated 65,000 undocumented youth graduate from American high schools each year, a fraction from Maryland schools.

Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services, the research arm of the General Assembly, calculates the state’s DREAM Act will cost $778,000 in fiscal year 2014 and rise to $3.5 million in fiscal year 2016. This is relatively miniscule compared to the state’s total higher ed expenditures, around $5 billion annually from fiscal years 2009 through 2011.

During economic hard times like ours, it’s understandable why some are fighting any budgetary outlay for Maryland’s DREAM Act.  But, over time, investing in educating Maryland’s undocumented youth could pay off.

The state has already seen these kids through years of schooling, and affordable college helps ensure a productive and educated workforce for Maryland and the rest of the US. College-educated immigrants would get better paying jobs and pay more in state and local taxes, and their lifetime contributions would more than cover the cost of Maryland’s subsidies.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with college degrees in 2009 had median weekly earnings of $1,137, almost twice the average of what those with only a high school diploma earned. The unemployment rate for college-educated workers was 4.6 percent, 10 points lower than the rate for less educated workers.

Denying these young people the opportunity for a bright future could disenfranchise and marginalize them. And since they came here as children, didn’t choose to be undocumented, and consider themselves Americans, they are highly unlikely to leave willingly, especially in light of the Obama administration’s new policy which suspends deportation of undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety.

With tuition subsidy costs relatively low, and the life-long stakes high for the immigrants and the rest of society high, investing in immigrant youth through higher education can only be to everyone’s benefit.

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog, August 22, 2011.

A Charter School for Immigrant Children

August 14, 2011; Source: The Boston Globe | A proposal to establish the Somerville Progressive Charter School, geared specifically to immigrant children in Somerville, Massachusetts, has been submitted to the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The agency will decide by the end of February 2012 whether to grant the school its charter.

Selena Fitanides, the coordinator of the group behind the initiative, told the Boston Globe that the proposed K-8 school would serve “the needs of children in Somerville whose first language is not English—the children of fairly recent immigrants.” It would open in September 2012 with an initial enrollment of 180 and grow to about 425 students over five to seven years.

The U.S. Census estimates the City of Somerville to have over 21,000 immigrants, 28 percent of the municipality’s total population. About 9 percent of its residents identify as Latino and roughly another 9 percent as Asian. One in ten families live below the poverty line.

Somerville Progressive would offer bilingual students the chance to attend daily after-school enrichment programs in Spanish, Portuguese and French, all of which would also be available to native English-speaking enrollees. The school would have a strong focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills and would feature innovations such as extended learning time and collaborative learning in mixed-age groups. Fitanides said that the school would be “very student-centric, really focused on the individual and tailoring the curricular and instructional needs to that individual.”

Fitanides argues children of immigrants, particularly those from Spanish-speaking backgrounds, need a charter school. “We need to find a better way to educate those kids,” she told the Globe. “Our current system is not well suited to addressing their needs. We are losing a lot of these kids because they are dropping out of school.”

The founders of Somerville Progressive Charter School share the sentiments of many public-education reformers who have given our public schools a failing grade. President Obama has also touted charter schools as one solution to our ailing education system, although the verdict on their overall effectiveness is still out.

The concept behind this charter school is commendable. But like Somerville School Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi, I have a few questions and some “serious concerns.”

For starters, will the school enroll children of immigrants who need the help most or will it be a self-selecting pool of kids with parents who know how to work the system? What about immigrant children whose first language is neither English nor Spanish? Is a charter school the best way to improve the education of most immigrant children? Why not spend energy and resources in bolstering the public school system, which already educates most immigrant children?Erwin de Leon

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, August 24, 2011.

Scholarship Fund for the Model Minority

July 14, 2011; Source: Asian Journal Most Americans share the image of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) students as model minorities, bespectacled nerds who can solve complex math problems while simultaneously playing the violin. A report by the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education points out that this dominant portrait of AAPI students has been “heavily influenced by stereotypes and false perceptions, rather than empirical evidence.”

The reality is that not all AAPI students are cut from the same mold. The AAPI population in the U.S. is a rather heterogeneous lot. According to the Census Bureau, it is composed of 48 different ethnic groups from the Far East, Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent and the Pacific Islands. Asian Pacific American Islanders speak hundreds of languages and dialects, practice various religions and come from all socioeconomic groups. Not all AAPI students make it to Ivy League colleges or concert halls.

The Asian Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF), acknowledging the reality that many AAPI students come from families that live at or below the poverty level, is awarding $1.2 million in scholarships to more than 500 deserving AAPI students for the upcoming academic school year.

APIASF is the nation’s largest nonprofit devoted solely to providing college scholarships for AAPI youth. It was founded to meet an urgent need in the AAPI community, which has been disadvantaged by its model minority status. The organization’s website sheds light on the little known fact that many AAPI groups have educational levels below the national average. The fund awards anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 to high school and college students, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, July 18, 2011.

Raising Funds to Extend the Dream to Undocumented Students

July 4, 2011; Source: | The College Dream Fund, a nonprofit group in Bakersfield, Calif., awards scholarships to students who are denied access to government-sponsored financial aid and loans because of their immigration status. Its most recent fundraiser netted $25,000 — half of what it had hoped to raise.

The organization was founded by Sharon Mettler, a retired Kern County Superior Court Judge, and Jim Young, chancellor emeritus of the Kern Community College District. Mettler and Young believe that the American dream should be extended to deserving students who were brought to the United States at a very young age and know no other home. Young estimates that about 1,500 undocumented students graduated from Kern County high schools this year.

California might soon pitch in however and help these smart and hard-working young women and men get a college degree. Two bills have been introduced in the state legislature which would allow some undocumented students access to Cal grants, institutional aid and fee waivers at publicly funded colleges and would provide for the same privileges for private financial aid.

Until the federal government reforms our dysfunctional immigration system, states, nonprofits and private citizens will find ways to keep the dream alive for many young people who are American but in papers.

Originally posted on the Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, July 11, 2011.