« States Struggle to Identify, Support ELLs with Learning Disabilities | Main | Why Getting a Student's Name Right Is Important for All School Staff »

The Struggles Undocumented Immigrants Face at High School Graduation

In the past week, two Texas high school valedictorians—Larissa Martinez and Mayte Lara Ibarra —have announced they are undocumented immigrants.

They're among the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from American high schools each year. Unlike Martinez and Ibarra, most of them aren't valedictorians. Some are still struggling to map out their futures and learn English.

My colleague Denisa Superville profiled Katherine and Kenia, two unaccompanied minors from Honduras who are set to graduate from high school in Charlotte, N.C. Education Week withheld the students' last names at their request because of their immigration status.34-Unaccompanied-Kenia-blog.jpg

"The majority of unaccompanied minors who enrolled are still in school, but a growing number are graduating," Denisa wrote. "Such students are largely still undocumented, meaning that they cannot legally hold jobs or qualify for in-state tuition at many state colleges. Some are still mastering English and will need tutoring after graduation."

The Honduran immigrants she profiled have come of age during a moment in history when racial and ethnic tensions have flared on many K-12 campuses.

The valedictorians, Martinez and Ibarra, have faced deportation threats.

As a prank, seniors at a North Carolina high school built a wall made of boxes and blocked access to a common area. They shared a photo on social media captioned, "We built the wall first." It was a nod to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's pledge to stop illegal immigration on the United States' southern border by building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Racial tensions have flared in St. Cloud, Minn., where enrollment of Somali, and mostly Muslim, students has skyrocketed in the past decade.

"Many students worry about being deported," wrote the authors of a recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center. "Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment, and intimidation of students whose races, religions, or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail."

Martinez is headed to Yale and Ibarra is headed to the University of Texas at Austin. But as Denisa's story illustrates, high school graduation will mark the end of stability for many undocumented students.

"With graduation approaching, Katherine and Kenia both have post-high-school plans," she wrote. "They both know that achieving them will be difficult given that they are still undocumented and are working to improve their English."

Here's a link to a forum hosted by the Albert Shanker Institute and American Federation of Teachers this week on educating English-language learners.


Photo credit: Kenia, who came to the United States from Honduras, participates in a graduation award ceremony at her Charlotte, N.C., high school. -- Chris Keane for Education Week

Related Stories

Donald's Trump Rhetoric Has Made Some Students Feel Unsafe, Report Says

Immigrant Influxes Put U.S. Schools to the Test

Amid Influx of Muslim Students, Schools Temper Tensions

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on edweek.org, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Follow This Blog


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments

  • Charles: ELLs in our state ARE required to take State standardized read more
  • Melissa: Maybe I'm just becoming jaded, but this feels to me read more
  • Anonymous: Are you kidding me....UNO is an organizaion that literally destroys read more
  • Meg Baker: Are any schools using ACCESS scores for purposes other than read more
  • Dr. Mendoza: This is great news i must say. Hopefully this DREAM read more