In Boston's Dual-Language High School, One Teacher Grapples With Changing Tide Of Immigration

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This piece was produced by Willie Gomez, who was an Edify intern this spring. He is a graduating senior at Boston's Margarita Muñiz Academy, where Kelly Gil Franco was his teacher and debate coach.

Teacher Kelly Gil Franco says all of her students are “amazing.” But she admits there’s one 16-year-old girl who stands out.

“[She] was a child refugee, who actually had to cross the border,” Gil Franco says. The girl -- whom Gil Franco declines to name, protecting her anonymity — is an honors student, with a part-time job, who’s "willing to try her best every day."

Gil Franco says she "cannot visualize teaching a class without" seeing the girl. Now, she will have to.

“She’s actually required, now, to leave the country" and return to her native El Salvador, Gil Franco says, her voice trembling. That's due to a recent change in immigration policy.

Gil Franco teaches Spanish-language humanities at the Margarita Muñiz Academy in Jamaica Plain. It's the only dual-language high school in Boston, meaning that all subjects are taught in both English and Spanish.

As immigration policy began to change under the Trump administration, Gil Franco says her students started to ask questions that she couldn't answer: “'Do you think that I’ll be allowed to enter the [United States] if I leave now?' " Or: "'What do think will happen if I return to El Salvador?' "

The research firm InSight Crime recently calculated El Salvador as the deadliest place in Central America, with 81.2 murders per 100,000 people in 2016. (Salvadorans make up 11 percent of Boston's Latino community.)

Similar questions are on the minds of many foreign-born students in the U.S. — and there are more of them than ever. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the proportion of immigrants who are under 18 has doubled between 1990 and 2016.

Under the Trump administration, those young people are exposed to new uncertainty -- not only because of the rollback of DACA protections but also because of the termination of Temporary Protective Status for immigrants who fled El Salvador, but also Honduras, Haiti and Nicaragua. Many of those families have lived in the U.S. for years.

Gil Franco understands better than most. She herself was brought to the U.S. as a child two decades ago; her family left their native Colombia during a violent era of guerrilla warfare. And her own journey was uncertain: “My family moved to Boston when I was 9 years old, and I was able to reunite with them when I was 11 years old."

Adjusting to a new country and language, Gil Franco says she learned a lot about her future profession.

And, she says, by being a teacher who helps young people adjust to life in America, she's paying back a debt of service from her time attending Fenway High School in the 2000s: “If it had not been for all the support that I received from my teachers, I don’t think I would have been able to become a confident student that was willing to share my experience, and what made me unique in my community.”

Now, she says, that confidence is being tested. "There are days when I come into work, and ... I want to ignore it," Gil Franco says. "But I have learned that I really need to remain strong, because these kids are still coming to school."

So, Gil Franco says, even though she herself sometimes worries, she has to convince her students not to: “Children sometimes come into the classroom crying, because they're terrified of losing their parents."

She says she tells them: “Don't be afraid. You have never committed a crime. Your parents have never committed a crime by wanting to offer you a better future.”

This segment aired on May 28, 2018.


Willie Gomez Intern Reporter



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