It’s back to school season and the ire of some on the far-Right has a new target: Central American children in U.S. schools. The prospect of children fleeing the violence in that region attending American schools has become a cause for alarm in nativist circles, and the organized anti-immigrant movement is seeking to capitalize.
Since reports first emerged of children arriving in the U.S., anti-immigrant organizations and far-Right media have continually demonized these children, calling for their immediate deportation. Now those same forces are attempting to stoke further anti-immigrant sentiment. For example, an August 12 Townhall.com headline boasted: “Schools to Be Flooded With Illegal Immigrant Children.”
As always, nativists refuse to acknowledge that these children have a right to an eduction. In the landmark 1982 Plyler vs. Doe decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all children have the right to a K-12 public school education.
Unfortunately, a smattering of mainstream media outlets are picking up the anti-immigrant movement’s talking points and allowing nativist fear-mongering to seep into their coverage. Among the examples:
- Last week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution headline proclaimed a local school district is dealing with a “swarm” of immigrant students. Though, the alarmist — and dehumanizing – headline was contradicted by the article’s final sentence: “DeKalb [County Schools] typically registers about 2,000 new immigrants a year, and the tally for this school year is about 1,300 so far.”
- The L.A. Times offered NumbersUSA a platform to criticize Los Angeles Unified School District. Chris Chmielenski, NumbersUSA’s director of content and activism, said officials are sending the wrong message to Central America by honoring the recently arrived children’s right to an education. Neither Chmielenski nor his organization, however, have any expertise on this particular matter.
Strategy has failed in past
Portraying immigrants and refugees as a debilitating threat to public schools has long been a tactic of the anti-immigrant movement. In 1994, NumbersUSA founder and president Roy Beck breached the issue in an article for The Atlantic. Beck painted a dismal portrait of Wausau, Wisconsin, where Hmong refugees had been accepted in the 1970s.
“Many sensed that their way of life is slipping away,” Beck wrote of Wausau residents.
It should be noted that at the time of the article’s publication, Beck was working as a consultant for John Tanton – the white nationalist architect of the modern day anti-immigrant movement.
It should also be noted that editors of The Wausau Daily Herald recently reflected on Beck’s piece — nearly 20 years after its publication — and flatly refuted many of Beck’s claims.
The Herald editors wrote, “Did our life slip away? Nope,” adding, “Wausau has grown and become stronger as it has made a substantial Hmong population part of its fabric.”
As students and schools across the country prepare for a new year, mainstream media must not lend credence to the anti-immigrant movement’s attacks on children’s right to an education. After all, these attacks stem from a movement rooted in bigotry, one advocating for unconstitutional policies with leaders who operate outside the margins of legitimate public debate.
Instead, we must honor the rights of these children by providing them with care, with access to public education being a vital component. They, like the Hmong residents in Wausau and countless others across the country before them, deserve their opportunity to contribute to our country’s fabric.