Teachers are “mandatory reporters,” meaning they are required by law to report suspected child abuse to responsible authorities.
With that responsibility in mind, Mandy Manning, the 2018 National Teacher of the Year, has brought teachers and others together in a new group called Teachers Against Child Detention. It is planning a 10-hour “Teach-In for Freedom” on Feb. 17 in El Paso to focus public attention on the plight of thousands of immigrant children held by the U.S. government on the border with Mexico and to call for their release.
The Trump administration instituted a policy to separate migrant children from their parents when they tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, and thousands of young people have been held in tent camps. Officials said late last year that the number of children in federally funded shelters and facilities had climbed to 14,600, up from about 9,200 when President Trump took office in 2017.
But a January government report said the Trump administration had probably separated thousands more migrant children from their parents than it had publicly disclosed. Most of the children held before Trump’s election came to the United States alone. Trump’s claim that the Obama administration also had a policy to separate families is not true, PolitiFact reported.
“We are calling for teachers across the country to speak out against child detention and the trauma that is the result of putting kids into institutionalized settings,” Manning said in an interview. “We want teachers to speak out, make videos or write in support of this campaign. Educators are mandatory reporters of suspected abuse and detaining children is abusive.”
The teach-in will feature teaching lessons and talks by educators from every state and from Juarez, Mexico. There will be addresses by John B. King Jr., President Barack Obama’s second education secretary, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a major union. It starts at 9 a.m. El Paso time and runs until 7 p.m. at San Jacinto Plaza in El Paso, which is only a few miles from the border. It will be broadcast on Facebook, YouTube and other media outlets.
Manning’s coalition is calling on the government to take several steps. The website says:
We call on the U.S. government to end the detention and criminalization of immigrant children and their families. We call, instead, for the government to protect immigrant children, in strict compliance with the Flores decree, without exception for “emergencies” that have allowed children to be incarcerated for extended periods. We demand that immigrant children in U.S. custody (1) never be separated from their families, (2) be held in the least restrictive settings possible, and not in large institutional facilities like Tornillo and Homestead, and (3) be released to their sponsors within 20 days as required by Flores.
At the teach-in, lessons will be given on a range of topics, including “the harm immigrant kids experience when separated from their families, why they have fled from their home countries and how Americans can welcome them legally and contribute to their ongoing care and integration,” according to the group’s website.
“We hope this event engages communities across the nation into action to demand our government release our immigrant children from imprisonment in detention centers across the nation,” Manning said. She is also asking parents and students throughout the country to collect books and write a letter — preferably in Spanish — to be sent to the detained children.
Ivonne Orozco, the 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year, said she is planning to participate and will tell her story of being brought to the United States as an undocumented child. She is a “Dreamer” — a recipient of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers temporary relief from deportation. It was created by the Obama administration in 2012, and ever since there have been unsuccessful calls to allow DACA recipients to stay in the United States permanently and become citizens.
“This issue is close to my heart,” Orozco said. “I am a DACA recipient. All I can think about is if these [family separation] policies had been in place 15 years ago when my family immigrated, I could have been in that facility. That could have been me. I could not have received an American education and I wouldn’t be a teacher.
“I know that all children have endless potential and deserve to be free and get a quality education,” she said.
Teachers and others can learn more about what they can do here. Partners in the effort include United We Dream, an immigrant youth activist group; the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union; the American Federation of Teachers; the Teaching Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups; and the Hope Border Institute, a grass-roots community organization in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region.