Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

How can early learning programs best serve the children of immigrant parents who are worried about being deported?

The advocacy organization Early Edge California has some answers.

“Currently we are hearing that some families are not attending early learning programs out of concern of deportation, so we are working at the state level on information that can guide local policies and practices,” Early Edge says on its website.

These resources include:

• a U.S. Department of Education fact sheet about safe spaces such as schools and churches where immigration actions may not occur

• a guide for educators and school support staff released by the American Federation of Teachers and other organizations to help those “who teach, mentor and help open the doors of opportunity for undocumented youth and unaccompanied and refugee children currently living in the United States”

• another U.S. Department of Education publication explains how early learning programs and elementary schools can support immigrant families

The need for this awareness is substantial. 

In 2015, 26 percent of all children in the United States lived with immigrant parents, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank. And of the 29.4 million children under age 18 living in low-income families, “almost 9.4 million (or 32 percent) were children of immigrants.”

As public officials in Massachusetts note, immigrants have proven to be vital members of this state’s economy.

In a recent statement, Carlos E. Santiago, the commissioner of Higher Education for Massachusetts, said:

“As Commissioner, I believe we must stand together and reassure our students and the communities we serve that our colleges and universities will continue to support them. Additionally, we must affirm and advance the system wide goals of academic freedom and innovation, recognizing that the diversity of our students and scholars is central to that success.”

Last month in a letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker explained:

“When students come to the Commonwealth, they often stay and start their own businesses, creating wealth for their investors and employees and new products and services for the marketplace. More than one-third of American founders of start-ups and spin-offs were born outside the United States, and many of these founders were educated in Massachusetts schools.”

One workforce sector that benefits from immigrant participation is early childhood education and care.

In a comprehensive report on early educators who are themselves English Language Learners (ELLs), the nonprofit CAYL Institute notes that in 2015, immigrants working in early childhood education made up nearly 20 percent of both the national and Massachusetts workforce.

The linguistic and cultural diversity that these early educators bring to classrooms makes them highly qualified to work with diverse populations of children.

Armed with information, early education programs can provide safe spaces for children and families.

As Early Edge California says, “All families deserve peace of mind knowing their children are safe while they have the opportunity to learn.”