An Educator Calls for An End to Harris County’s Deportation Pipeline
By an anonymous High School Administrator
“Can you please pray for my dad? He was arrested and might be deported. My mom won’t stop crying and we don’t know what we are going to do to pay for food and a place to live. My mom has to take care of my baby brother and can’t work. Please, will you pray with me?”
That was just one of hundreds of direct exchanges I’ve had in my over nineteen years of service in education as a Sunday school teacher, teacher’s assistant, bilingual instructor, and most recently, as a high school administrator. This particular student’s father was caught in the crosshairs of an optional federal deportation program called 287(g).
This story is just one of many tragic stories which have given Harris County the dubious distinction of being responsible for more deportations than any other county. It is a dirty, expensive and heartless secret simmering beneath the diverse and vibrant community so many Houstonians love.
For years the Harris County Sheriff’s Office has chosen to contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), resulting in a relationship where some local Sheriff Officers are given the authority to act as de-facto immigration agents at the County’s expense.
The reality is that real people, Harris County residents like you and I, are directly and negatively affected by 287(g). The mothers, fathers and siblings of my students disappear through the notorious Harris County jail into ICE custody, leaving educators like me to fill the void for the children left behind.
Once a student’s parent or parents gets deported, the student automatically become at risk. Homelessness or the threat of eviction results in students needing to work full time to replace the parent’s income. This results in excessive absences and getting behind in school. Losing a parent or parents to deportation has emotional and traumatic effects on students too. Depression and loneliness, along with a lack of parental guidance and supervision can also lead to a high risk of unhealthy behavior choices.
It becomes the school’s responsibility to invest our resources in making sure that students are making academic progress and have their basic needs of food, clothing, safety and shelter met. We must also provide them with counseling support, assist them with finding after-school employment and most importantly, that we give our students a sense of love and belonging by showing them we are here to help them through their trauma. For each high school student whose parents have been deported, campus staff and I may spend as much as 100 hours during the school year supporting them, all in an effort to keep them enrolled in school rather than disappearing into despair.
The stress, pain, resentment, fear and strife resulting from deportation programs such as Harris County’s 287(g) destroy the very fiber of our communities, break apart the family structure and dismantle the pillars of hard work and education. As we all know, strong families result in strong communities. Every time we break apart a family through deportation under 287(g) and related deportation programs, we are putting the children that are left behind on an unfairly difficult path.
It is by purging our city of many immigrants through local law enforcement involvement in deportations that we are creating our own demise. Our school systems depend on the support, guidance, and resources that the families of our students provide for them outside of the classroom. When deportation tears these same families apart, not only is it disruptive to our school environment, it undermines the education we work so hard to provide to our students, setting them up for a difficult future without parental support.
How does leaving children fatherless, motherless, loveless, demoralized, hungry, and uneducated make our communities safer? It does not. In fact, it does the exact opposite; it makes the lives of children and teenagers unbearably difficult and without parental guidance can lead to increases in absenteeism, gang involvement, drug use, and unplanned pregnancy.
It’s time for Harris County to not only end its participation in 287(g) but end its’ role in facilitating deportations. I have witnessed countless students and parents become victims to the Harris County deportation pipeline, and I urge Houstonians to instead reinvest our money and time on educational and preventative resources for our students. We need to ensure that Harris County is led into a safer, successful and economically thriving future, starting with keeping all families, including those of my students, together.