Deportations And The Domino Effect On Texas Schools

What school districts would be hardest hit by ramped-up immigration enforcement? “It may be easier to say what districts might not be affected.”

By Joy DiazAugust 31, 2017 11:49 am, ,

Regardless of the weather, signs of fall are here in Texas.

School is back in session, football has returned, and, as kids return to class, a slate of new state laws are set to take effect.

And despite most schoolchildren in Texas being U.S. citizens – 96 percent, by our count – the effect of deportations could soon be felt in schools across the state.

Along with the increase in federal deportations under the Trump administration, the implementation of one of Texas’ new laws – Senate Bill 4, the so-called “show-me-your-papers” law passed this last legislative session – could drastically alter Texas schools.

SB 4 was slated to go into effect September 1, until a judge temporarily stayed a portion of the law. The state has vowed to appeal, and, depending on the outcome, schools could be greatly affected – because when parents are deported, schools lose a ton of children.

At an elementary school in Edinburg, close to the Texas/Mexico border, there’s nothing that indicates the immigration status of its students.

Michael Williams, former commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, says that’s by design.

“We are not allowed to ask that question,” he says.

Filipa Rogrigues for KUT News

Former Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams.

Since 1982, K-12 students have been able to claim the benefit of the Equal Protection Clause.

“There’s a United States Supreme Court Case (Plyler V Doe) that prohibits school officials from asking any student what their immigration status is,” Williams says.

Without that data, it’s hard to know how many children are undocumented or have undocumented parents. The TEA reports that last year, Texas had almost 5,500,000 children enrolled in schools. And the Pew Research Center says that about 13.4 percent of school children in Texas have parents who are unauthorized. That adds up to 737,000 kids whose parents are at risk of deportation.

But while the exact numbers are unclear, one thing we know for certain: most parents who get deported take their children with them.

The roots of all these mixed status families run back to the Bracero program – a 20-year guest worker agreement between Mexico and the U.S. Many of the Mexican workers came from Guanajuato, one of the most beautiful states in country. Its Spanish Colonial architecture has earned it a World Heritage designation from the United Nations.

But 16-year-old Gladys Martinez Garcia hates it there. She says it’s not home, and dreams of going back to her father who’s still in the U.S. But after Gladys’ mother was deported, she made her and her two sisters join her in Mexico.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/Texas Standard

Gladys Martínez in her home in Yuriria, Guanajuato.

Gladys was only nine then, her sisters a little older.

“I told her that I wanted to go back because I don’t like it here that much, but I couldn’t do a thing,” Gladys says.

Her mother, Rita Garcia Martinez, says the girls suffered through the process.

“Our family’s been broken,” she says. “The girls used to cry every evening, and count the days until they could go back.”

The Martinez Garcia girls are just three out of thousands of children that this region is expecting to receive along with their deported parents.

Ricardo Sanchez Carrillo, who’s in charge of bilingual education in the neighboring state of Michoacán, says the governments of Mexico and the U.S. have told him to get ready for about 5,000 kids to arrive in Michoacán this year.

“The situation is very complex,” he says. “The school systems in the U.S. and Mexico are very different. And the culture is different too. They miss the food, most of the children do not speak Spanish and therefore face discrimination, and their psychological trauma is huge after their deportation or their parents’ deportation.”

Schools in Texas could lose a ton of children. We know this because both the U.S. and Mexican governments are talking about it. But if schools in Texas lose children, former TEA Commissioner Williams says that also translates into lost school funding. He says that on average, “One child responds to about 8,000 in federal and state dollars to a campus.”

So if eight kids were to leave the school system, that alone would account for a loss of $64,000.

“That’s about what you pay a teacher,” Williams adds.

In some Texan school districts, the Hispanic student body population is huge: like Rocksprings ISD with 58 percent, or Alice ISD with 84 percent, or even Progreso ISD with 97 percent.

“So, you wouldn’t necessarily have to work real hard to get to eight students or 16 students or 24 students that would be removed from school,” Williams says. “That could have real financial consequences.”

There are dozens of small school districts in Texas that could be severely affected, like Cotula or Santa Maria. Even large districts like Austin and Houston could feel the consequences.

“It may be easier to say what districts might not be affected,” Williams says.

The loss of sales and property taxes could also follow, as those deported parents would stop paying – and in Texas, property taxes pay for schools.

It’s a domino effect.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/Texas Standard

Political scientist Tom Wong says that, if SB 4 further ramps up federal deportations, the biggest challenge wouldn’t be to schools, but the state.

Wong teaches at the University of California San Diego, but his forte is in crunching numbers. Earlier this year, the City of Austin hired him to estimate the negative effects the city would face if deportations were to escalate significantly under SB 4.

He focused on the law’s effects on public health, public safety and education. When it came to schools, Wong compiled the number of reported absences in the week after Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in Austin earlier this year. He then compared those absences to the same period of time last year.

In Austin ISD, absences increased by 152 percent.

“As interior immigration enforcement ramps up, the concern is that there’s a chilling effect … on the day-to-day behavior of undocumented immigrants,” says Wong.

That could translate into more kids missing school. A year ago, 14,000 Austin children were absent in February; after the ICE raids this year, 37,000 were absent. And all of those absences were of Hispanic children.

And since schools get paid per kid, per day, absences cost money. So the loss – estimated at over $1 million – was felt immediately. Wong also looked at the effects similar laws have had in other parts of the country, like SB1070 in Arizona, HB56 in Alabama and Prop 187 in California.

“And so, the dominos start to fall,” Wong says, noting that, as increased absences affect graduation, “based on this analysis – we can then see how this can impact the college educated and college trained for the City of Austin, as well as the state of Texas more generally.”

Former education commissioner Williams says that “nobody thought about this when people were proposing the legislation or debating it.”

“And so, yeah,” he adds. “I am hoping and praying we don’t get to this.”

If the census data is correct, the children playing in Edinburg or Austin elementary school playgrounds are Americans; only four percent are not.

But they are American children that could be gone.