On Feb. 18, 2016, the Latino community and our allies were part of a massive movement to oppose laws that make life hard for working immigrant families. On this “Day Without Latinos” protest, over 4,500 students, or 16 percent of the district’s total enrollment, also participated in the movement by not attending school. Many teachers and administrators rallied in support of the Latino community, recognizing the critical role schools play in buffering the negative impacts of anti-immigrant legislation for Latino students and their families.
Currently, Latino students make up 20 percent of the Madison Metropolitan School District. Given that this number is projected to increase dramatically, both in Wisconsin and nationally, it is imperative that local schools support the needs of the Latino community.
Many schools showed their support for the Latino community Feb. 18, and we praise those teachers and school administrators who created meaningful lesson plans for young students around civic engagement and highlighted the unique impact of anti-immigrant laws on the Latino community. While these effective teachers should be celebrated, this was not the case for all Madison schools. One of the authors of this column is an immigrant parent with children in the district, one of whom is in elementary school. In this particular elementary school, action by teachers in support of Latino families in the weeks leading up to the protest was actually discouraged. Many of the Latino children showed signs of emotional stress, sadness and fear about the anti-immigrant legislation being proposed. However, the school did not address the concerns of the Latino students and their families, despite widespread acknowledgement of the negative impact of the proposed legislation for Latino families.
Why should schools provide support for Latino students and their families? Latinos are one of the fastest-growing minority groups here in Wisconsin and nationally: One out of every four children is Latino. Yet, Latinos face a set of unique barriers set in place by the current political climate, and these barriers directly impact their health and well-being. The other author of this piece is a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and studies the health impacts of living in states that are anti-immigrant. Using data across the U.S., he found that Latinos who live in states that pass a high number of anti-immigrant laws are 17 percent less likely to report very good or excellent health.
These negative health outcomes are not restricted to adults, but are also spilling over to our children’s development. Living in a state that is hostile toward immigrants impacts our physical health and our children’s mental health (citizens and noncitizens alike). As you can imagine, it is hard to learn when you are worried or stressed out about your family member being deported.
This is why it is important to have schools and educators understand the lived experiences of Latino communities. As minority children are now the “majority” in American public schools and the future of America, it is no longer an option for schools to ignore the unique struggles that the current political climate imposes on the Latino community.
As Latino children increase in Madison, Dane County and Wisconsin, addressing issues that affect Latino children is mandatory. We hope this column can spark a conversation about the needs of the community and evidence as to how anti-immigrant rhetoric impacts the entire community, not just immigrants or Latinos. More importantly, we hope this piece moves school districts in Wisconsin to recruit and maintain Latino teachers, staff and social workers who are equipped to handle the lived experiences of our community.
Edgar Muciño is a Madison resident and father of two students in the Madison Metropolitan School District. Edward D. Vargas is a post-doctoral researcher at UW-Madison examining the effects of immigration policy and deportations on the health and well-being of Latino/a families.
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