California Educator

April/May 2020

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"It was very hard," he recalls. "When I said yes, my mother was crying." Luis moved in with an uncle he barely knew. After graduation, he is expected to work and send money home to his family. "It's a lot of responsibility for an unaccompanied minor," says Ana Romo, Luis' English language devel- opment teacher. "eir parents send them here to have a better life, and then ask them to return the favor. at is the mindset." One of her female students from El Salvador crossed the border because her mother feared she could be raped and kidnapped. Now she attends College of the Sequoias. Another named Michelle came as an unaccompanied minor because attending high school and college is a luxury few can afford in Mexico. Now Michelle attends UC Davis. "Miss Romo helped me, because she didn't feel sorr y for me," says Michelle. "She told me that crying wouldn't fix any- thing. She looked at me as a normal student and not just an immigrant. She helped me apply for college and scholarships. Being an unaccompanied minor is hard, but I'm going after the American Dream." Last year was difficult for Luis, says Romo, a member of Visa- lia Unified Teachers Association. He became rebellious. Romo talked to Luis at length about focusing on school and making his parents proud. His uncle told her, "So you're the one he com- plains is picking on him. Please keep doing it. He listens to you." e lines have blurred as to what an unaccompanied minor is today, says Raul Gonzalez, who teaches kindergarten at Crestwood School in Visalia and has undocumented family and friends. While most people think of teens running across the border alone as being the only type of unaccompanied minors, the same result happens when parents return to their homeland — voluntarily or through deportation — and teens are left in the U.S. alone. Teachers say unaccompanied minors in their classrooms usually live with relatives or friends and are expected to work. Some teachers have had students cross the border into the U.S. alone and reunite with a parent they haven't seen in years — who may have started a new family in America. e reunions are often challenging because students have anger issues over being separated in the first place. is can cause behavior problems. "No matter how they arrived here, we need to help these chil- dren," says Gonzalez, a Visalia Unified Teachers Association member. "ey have fled war-torn countries where there is vio- lence and no law enforcement. We cannot send them back to dangerous situations. Some have requested asylum, and their cases may not be heard for years. "Meanwhile, they desperately need our help to receive an edu- cation, which is the right of any child. It is important not only to help them for their sake, but also for the sake of our country. ese children are our future." Visalia Unified Teachers Association member Ana Romo has been a positive force in the life of Luis, an unaccompanied minor who attends Redwood High School. " These children desperately need our help to receive an education, which is the right of any child. It is important not only to help them for their sake, but for the sake of our country. These children are our future." —Raul Gonzalez, Visalia Unified Teachers Association 32 feature

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