Report Says Immigrant Families Marginalized

March 19, 2009 Updated: March 19, 2009

NEW YORK—If you’re an immigrant parent in New York City, according to a new report, you’re still probably getting the snub at your child’s school.

Advocates for Children (AFC), a non-profit that pushes for education reform and equality for low income students and students of color, released a report on March 18, that outlines the difficulties faced by immigrant parents who try to get involved at their children’s schools.

According to the report, roughly 60 percent of parents of children in the New York City public schools are immigrants, but though they are the majority, these parents say they feel marginalized. Immigrant parents interviewed for the report tell similar stories of being shut out of schools for lack of picture identification, and of feeling like they could not participate in parent leadership programs because of a language barrier.

Education studies have shown that parental involvement is a key factor influencing a child’s academic success, so Department of Education (DOE) officials have taken steps to increase parental involvement across the board. The problem, according to the AFC report, is that not enough resources have been aimed at the immigrant parents and their unique issues—like questionable immigration status, language barriers, irregular schedules, and lack of official identification documents.

Carla Trujillo, a parent from Sunset Park, Brooklyn told of being locked out of her child’s school for lack of official identification.

“It was very hard for me to go to my son's school. They did not let me in the building because I do not have formal ID. I was finally able to get in when I got an ID card as a member of a community-based organization called La Union, but the parents who don't belong to La Union have no access to the school without a formal ID,” said Ms. Trujillo.

Wendy Cheung, youth and parent coordinator for the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families—one of the organizations to co-sponsor the AFC report—said it is not just the individual children who lose out, but the entire public education system.

“Parents can be a powerful ally in the education of their children. If we're not letting immigrant families contribute, then New York City is missing out on the skills and resources of a majority of parents, resources sorely needed in these tough economic times,” said Cheung.

The AFC report includes a list of 48 recommendations for how the DOE and schools can strengthen their partnership with immigrant parents. The list includes: creating a standing citywide advisory committee on family-school-community partnerships; holding an annual immigrant planning summit with community-based organizations; and issuing a statement that the New York City school system is a safe zone for immigrant parents. At the school level, the report recommends creating a parent welcoming committee/multicultural advisory committee, issuing identification cards to parents, using non-written means of communication and collaborating with community based organizations (CBO’s) to reach immigrant parents.