Added May 7, 2019
Within the past five years, immigration rates among undocumented immigrants have risen due to political, economic, and educational instability in their home countries. The immigration process for undocumented youth can often result in multiple stressors including a sense of loss in regards to separation from their homeland and families, reunification struggles with their estranged families in the U.S., acculturative stress, and fewer educational and work opportunities due to their undocumented. School counselors need to be aware of the multiple barriers and risk factors facing undocumented youth. Furthermore, given the uncertainty of the existence of undocumented youth in the US, school counselors are uniquely positioned to advocate for and support these individuals from an individual, family, and systemic perspective.
Although students are not required to disclose their immigration status, school counselors have an ethical responsibility to reduce or remove the stigma of undocumented students and address any issues of microaggressions and discrimination from their peers. School counselors should be aware of these factors and address issues of trust and potential fears early on in their counseling sessions with undocumented youth. All school counselors (and school counselors in training) should engage in an in-depth awareness of their own racial identity, biases, and privileges, particularly exploring their understanding of, and biases towards undocumented immigrant populations. Increasing awareness of these biases can help school counselors provide culturally competent counseling when working with undocumented youth. In addition, school counselors can provide confidence building workshops to promote student success for undocumented students as well as provide bullying and discrimination prevention lessons in school classrooms as part of their school counseling core curriculum to ensure that all students feel that the school environment is safe, welcoming, and conducive to learning.
Understanding undocumented students’ migration experiences also can provide some insight into what barriers they may face. Specifically, school counselors’ assessment of experiences with acculturation and ethnic identity, poverty, depression and fears of deportation could improve undocumented Latinx youths’ experiences in the schools. While there has been an increase in research regarding undocumented youth in the past five years, little research has focused on personal/social concerns facing high school immigrant youth as a result of immigrating to the United States during their childhood and adolescence. Additional investigations of the systemic barriers undocumented youth face could assist school counselors in their ability to foster academic, social, emotional and career development among their students. Specific advocacy strategies for this population also could include school counselors educating themselves, their students, and their students’ families with information including resources available to undocumented youth, pathways to citizenships, educational opportunities, and immigrant rights. Finally, school counselors can advocate for undocumented students by assuming leadership roles in national organizations focused on supporting undocumented populations.
Regine M. Talleyrand, PhD, Jennifer Thanh-Giang Vojtech
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