Teachers question education provided to migrant children in detention

McALLEN — The Texas State Teacher Association is calling for access to detention centers where hundreds of immigrant children are being held. The association is also calling for an assessment of the children’s educational needs.

“The state of Texas has a moral obligation to educate them,” said TSTA President Noel Candelaria in a news release Tuesday. “TSTA abhors the Trump administration’s cruel policy of separating these children from their parents. The least we can do is offer comfort and provide educational opportunities while they are here.”

Since April, about 2,000 children have been separated from their parents after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, as reported by the Associated Press. The separations became the norm after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy that changed illegal-entry proceedings from civil matters to criminal matters.

The U.S. Border Patrol has implemented the policy by referring people with no prior criminal history for criminal prosecution, resulting in an increase in family separations.

Under the policy, parents entering the country illegally are being criminally prosecuted and their children taken away and placed at various detention centers. Parents are not provided information on their children’s whereabouts.

Most recently, a former Walmart building in Brownsville that was turned into detention center for children became the focus of national attention. Those who have been allowed tours of the detention center have reported children spending the entire day indoors.

These centers, however, are federally operated and funded with the Department of Homeland Security overseeing operations, including providing any educational needs.

Education was part of a conversation by state officials who recently toured some of the facilities. Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, mentioned at a round table that he was told children have up to six hours of studies per day.

TSTA is specifically asking Gov. Greg Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath to evaluate and fund education services for children whose length of stay in the state is unknown, as well as allowing educators access to the facilities.

“In a landmark decision, Plyler v. Doe, which originated in Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that states cannot deny students a free public education on account of their immigration status,” the TSTA news release states. “That ruling is still the law of the land.”

Schools are scheduled to end their summer breaks in about two months. TSTA states government officials should have a plan in place by then, as immigrant children continue to flood detention centers.

“It is time for Gov. Abbott and Commissioner Morath to begin putting together an education plan for these children,” Candelaria stated in the release. “This should include a plan for funding, and it should begin by allowing educators access to detention centers to evaluate the children’s educational needs. Members of the Texas State Teachers Association in the affected school districts are ready to assist.”

dperez-hernandez@themonitor.com