New IIH Report Highlights the Disturbing Impact of U.S. Immigration Enforcement on the Nation's Schools

February 5, 2020

The Immigration Initiative at Harvard (IIH) today released a new report, “Under Siege: The Disturbing Impact of Immigration Enforcement on the Nation’s Schools,” which reveals that nearly 85 percent of educators report observing students’ overt expressions of fear of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) intervention in their lives, and 44 percent saying this fear was “extensive.”

“This report takes a critical look at how immigration enforcement policies are impacting students, and inciting fear among immigrant children, their families, and their communities,” said Roberto G. Gonzales,  Harvard Graduate School of Education professor and director of IIH. “All students, no matter their status, experience the disappearing classmates and empty desks. These policies have ripple effects that are significantly impacting student behavior and performance, and must be addressed.” 

The study, conducted by Jongyeon Joy Ee, assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, School of Education at Loyola Marymount University, and Patricia Gándara, research professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, aimed to understand how educators perceive the effects of the new immigration enforcement regime as well as how immigration enforcement is affecting students who are not the targets of enforcement activity. More than 3,600 educators from 24 school districts and two educator networks participated in the brief survey which examined impressions of immigration enforcement around a variety of topics including absenteeism, behavioral and emotional problems and academic performance.

In addition to the reports of overt fear among students, the study uncovered the following:

  • Nearly 80 percent of educators report observing emotional and behavioral problems among their immigrant students, interfering with students’ ability to understand lessons.
  • More than half (58 percent) report increased absenteeism, which affects student performance as well as school funding and resources, with educators having greater difficulty to improve test scores and narrow achievement gaps.
  • Sixty-one percent of respondents observed an impact on academic performance, and in the Northeast and South regions, more than two-thirds of respondents reported a drop in achievement among students.
  • Two-thirds of respondents report indirect effects on other students of having peers threatened by immigration enforcement.

“It is critical that policymakers understand that these students are overwhelmingly U.S. citizens—our children— but as long as their parents are targets of enforcement, much of the burden of these policies will fall on the children,” said Gándara. “And to the extent that they are not able to access an equitable education—or even any education at all—their futures and their communities’ futures are at risk.”  

The report is the second piece of research to be released as part of IIH’s Issues Brief Series, an ongoing initiative to disseminate rigorous, non-partisan, and non-ideological research on immigration issues across a broad range of discipline and perspectives. The first report, released in October 2019, focused on how policies enforcing family separation and child detention can lead to toxic stress. Additional briefs will be released on a bi-monthly basis through 2020.

About the Immigration Initiative at Harvard

The Immigration Initiative at Harvard (IIH) was created to advance and promote interdisciplinary scholarship, original research, and intellectual exchange among stakeholders interested in immigration policy and immigrant communities. The IIH serves as a place of convening for scholars, students, and policy leaders working on issues of immigration — and a clearinghouse for rapid response, non-partisan research and usable knowledge relevant to the media, policymakers, and community practitioners.

For media contact related to the report pleae contact Dr Jennifer Allsopp at +16173010377.

Download the report in English and Spanish.