This post is an open letter to the Trump administration, signed by 45 former State Teachers of the Year and the 1,840 members of Teachers Against Child Detention.
As we move through summer break, some close to heading back to our classrooms and others just starting our vacations, we think about our students. We think about what they are doing. We wonder if they will retain what we taught them. Mostly, we worry about a summer without the consistency of going to school every day.
Those of us who are also parents think about the time we’ll have with our families. We think about how, even in summer, we can continue to ensure all of our children, those in our homes and those in our classrooms, have safety, security and care during this time away from school.
This year, we have had new worries. Worries about the children our nation is willfully traumatizing at the southern border—incarcerating them and denying them access to education. [pullquote position ="right"]We worry about what will happen when immigrant children finally do make it into our communities and our schools and how we will serve them. As teachers, all children are our children. Our commitment to them never ends.
May marked the third month in a row with more than 100,000 people crossing into the United States, seeking asylum within our borders. However, the flow slowed in June, as it traditionally does in the hot summer months. Many are children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. In their home countries, they face unimaginable situations and the constant threat of violence from terrorist organizations, drug cartels, gangs, wars and extreme poverty. Too often, children are faced with a decision beyond their years: stay in their home country and have their potential wither away or risk leaving behind everything they have ever known—including family—for a chance at a better life.
Currently, 11,000 children are incarcerated in detention centers across our nation. Overall, more than 40,000 immigrant children have been in Department of Health and Human Services custody this year. The average length of stay for children in these prisons is 48 days. Their only crime is being born in a nation other than the United States. The Trump administration has separated these children from their families and locked them up. These actions cut to the core of our humanity.
Reports of conditions in these detention centers are horrifying. The federal government has received more than 4,500 complaints in the last four years about the sexual abuse of immigrant children while in detention, with an increase since the Trump administration put their family separation policy into place. Detention centers are overcrowded, and recently there are reports of spoiled food, broken toilets and generally deplorable conditions in these facilities. In some cases, people are being held in cage-like structures, in extreme heat and with no bedding or clean clothes.
Children report that they spend the majority of their time crying and scared. They fear breaking arbitrary rules—like hugging a sibling or taking a shower for too long—will prevent them from being reunited with their families. There are reports that U.S. border officials have been taking medication from migrants as they cross the border. Finally, and perhaps more alarmingly, as of July 1, seven children have died while in U.S. custody and 23 immigrants have died in the last two years.
To make things worse, the Trump administration has announced it will be cutting all funding for “non-essentials” for unaccompanied minors in government custody. These non-essentials include counseling, English-language services, exercise, legal services and basic education. State licensing requirements mandate education and recreation for minors who are in federal custody, regardless of immigration status. Our government is breaking its own laws by denying these services to children in detention—children who are traumatized by their own life experiences, and then re-traumatized by our government.
Regardless of individual perspectives on immigration and the right of immigrants to seek asylum in the United States, it is clear that treatment in these centers is inhumane and wrong. Put simply, all children deserve life. They have endless potential and deserve every opportunity to reach that potential. As educators, our hope is that soon these children will be released and they will find their way into our communities and into our schools. In our classrooms, we will help students process their trauma and come out whole on the other side.
Let us be abundantly clear: Our country is committing human rights violations on a daily basis. Our silence is our complicity. We are educators. We are mandated, by law, to report any suspected child abuse. As such, we have a professional and human responsibility to speak out about the conditions children face while simply seeking a chance at life.
We are Teachers Against Child Detention and we call on the United States government to end immigrant child detention, to free the children and to immediately place them in safe environments with families and sponsors. We demand that the children be released from custody and placed into our classrooms, so that we can be allowed to do our jobs, to care for them unconditionally, and to teach them. These are our children. No matter where they were born or how they got here, they belong in our classrooms. They deserve to be safe and they deserve a chance at a better life.
Signed by National and State Teachers of the Year:
Ivonne Orozco, 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning, 2018 National Teacher of the Year Heidi Crumline, 2018 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year Amy T. Andersen, 2018 New Jersey Teacher of the Year Michelle Cotrell-Williams, 2018 Virginia Teacher of the Year Tara Bordeaux, 2018 Texas Teacher of the Year Michael Soskil, 2018 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year Leah Juelke, 2018 North Dakota Teacher of the Year Jerome “Flew” Flewelling, 2018 Indiana Teacher of the Year Lindsey Jensen, 2018 Illinois Teacher of the Year Brian McDanial, 2018 California Teacher of the Year Ben Walker, 2018 Alaska Teacher of the Year Jinni Forcucci, 2018 Delaware Teacher of the Year Cara Pekarcik, 2018 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Kaitlin Young, 2018 Maine Teacher of the Year Rachel Schaefer, 2018 South Dakota Teacher of the Year Samantha Neill, 2018 Kansas Teacher of the Year Kristin Hayes-Leite, 2018 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year Luke Wilcox, 2018 Michigan Teacher of the Year Josh Carroll, 2018 Maryland Teacher of the Year Corey Bulman, 2018 Minnesota Teacher of the Year Rosalee Tela Shoulders, 2018 American Samoa Teacher of the Year Melissa Romano, 2018 Montana Teacher of the Year Joshua Meibos, 2018 Arizona Teacher of the Year Kimberly Eckhert, 2018 Louisiana Teacher of the Year Jonathan Juravich, 2018 Ohio Teacher of the Year Christina Gillettte Randle, 2018 Denver Teacher of the Year Beth Davey, 2018 Missouri Teacher of the Year Randi House, 2018 Arkansas Teacher of the Year Antenille Santos, 2018 Northern Mariana Islands Teacher of the Year Vanessa Ching, 2018 Hawaii Teacher of the Year Becky Sundin Mitchell, 2018 Idaho Teacher of the Year Aaryn Snow Birchell, 2018 Utah Teacher of the Year Kelly D. Holstine, 2019 Minnesota Teacher of the Year Sarahi Monterrey, 2019 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year Laura Chang, 2019 Michigan Teacher of the Year Jessica Dueñas, 2019 Kentucky Teacher of the Year Sheena Graham, 2019 Connecticut Teacher of the Year Stacey McAdoo, 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year Charlene Tuttle, 2019 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year Kellie May, 2019 Utah Teacher of the Year Anielle Rhia, 2019 Alaska Teacher of the Year Erica Boomsa, 2019 South Dakota Teacher of the Year Cathy Presnell, 2016 Tennessee Teacher of the Year Brett Bigham, 2014 Oregon Teacher of the Year and the 1,840 members of Teachers Against Child Detention