My second year of teaching, I was approached by a student. He was shaking, absolutely terrified. He explained that a few months prior a group of students, whom he knew, had held him and a friend at gunpoint and demanded his phone. Because he was undocumented, he had been too scared to report the incident to the police, to the school, or to anyone at all, for that matter. He didn't want to tell his family because he didn't want them to worry about him or pursue legal action, putting themselves at risk with the police. So he held it in. He went about his life hoping to never meet them again. But that day, the students had attacked him again and demanded money. When they saw that he didn't have any, they asked him when he was gonna get paid next. At that point he decided he had to seek help. He asked me to get the school security involved. Though he didn't want to report his name, he wanted to find out what options he had as an undocumented youth.
I realized being undocumented is a daily fear that people live with. It is something that affects them even when they are at their most vulnerable. I contacted the principal, researched the law, and tried really hard to make sure he felt safe. I was so energized thinking that we would find the people who had done this, that there would be some type of consequences given or way to ensure other undocumented students' safety.
But there wasn't.
I think we could have done more.
I think teachers are overworked and really busy, but those types of situations should be prioritized.
I think there should be time allotted for teachers to deal with school culture and not just academics, especially with this rise in issues around discrimination, immigration, and the political tensions that youth feel right now.
We need to take these moments to reflect on the tension between different ethnicities or between people who are documented and undocumented, and combat this idea that people who are undocumented can be treated differently. I got involved because I didn't want another student to come into our school and encounter the same problem and feel unsafe.
It feels like there are many different New Orleans' in this one city. We have to start spending time together - shop, go out together, worship if you're religious, go to school together. It's a huge piece. Our schools are so segregated and I think that causes a lot of cultural tension, which results in misunderstanding. It's surprising to me that the struggles people are having go unspoken in so many places. In the end, he told me that in spite of everything he felt supported to know there was someone in his life who would act on his behalf, and was a safe space for him to go.