Teaching Immigrant Students—A Brief History

Posted by Marissa Alonzo on March 02, 2017
Find me on:


Discussions about education in America can become heated when they involve the topic of immigrant students. One particular issue that is spoken about is whether or not students with undocumented status take away the valued education that American-born citizens should be ensured by using up the already limited public school resources. Despite the perennial political debate throughout the years, the historical Supreme Court case in 1982 known as Plyler v Doe cemented a law that states "any resources which might be saved from excluding undocumented children from public schools were far outweighed by the harms imposed on society at large from denying them an education." This court ruling was strengthened further  by its citation of  the 14th amendment, which states "no state shall...deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Despite this ruling, over the years individual states have continued to attempt to circumvent the law and block immigrant students from enrolling. Several states even attempted to require enrolling students to produce social security identification cards, but these initiatives were shut down by Department of Education and Justice for unjust bias in student enrollment. Regardless of the law, however,  hostility remains a constant in several areas of the United States for those who immigrate in those regions. 

Many immigrant students have reported feeling isolated, scared, and sometimes threatened in a society that is currently highly focused on immigration issues. Educators have also felt the pain as they try to cultivate an inclusive classroom for all. 

Where do immigrants come from?

Immigrants make up approximately 81 million or 26 percent of the overall population, the highest immigration coming from Mexico, India, China, the Philippines, El Salvador, Vietnam, Cuba, Korea, Dominican Republic, and Guatemala. These immigrants migrate for many reasons such as to seek freedom or refuge, to practice their religion freely, escape poverty or oppression, and to make a better life for themselves and their children. The United States' foundation is laid on its history as an immigrant nation and  it continues to be, despite the continued political debate. 

Where do they settle?

The top states to receive new immigrants are California, New York, Texas, Florida, and Illinois. However, as the economy has suffered there has been an additional increase in other states such as Georgia, Nevada, and Washington. 

Teaching Immigrant Students

Many research studies have suggested that immigrant students should not be treated any differently than other students or made to feel different. Often there are language barriers, for which specialized ELL programs can be utilized. Many foreign-born students come from various countries with even more varying degrees of educational evaluation and standards. It is important to get to know the student and gauge where they stand in academics while respecting their culture. Teaching immigrant students is a difficult task and one with no concrete answer, but maintaining classroom integrity and teaching to the best of your ability is not lost on these students. After all, many come to the United States for a chance to receive a better education. 

What does the future hold?

The future of immigrants in the United States remains a much debated issue, and with a new President and Department of Education leadership, many are anxious to see what will happen with respect to the nation's schools. Whatever happens with national policy, it's a given that American teachers will continue to have a positive impact on the immigrant children in their classrooms on a daily basis. 



Visit NISE for more information