I am so grateful for the students that I work with every Monday and Wednesday morning. They are sharp. They are dedicated. But mostly, they have stories to tell about their journey to the United States.
I have a student who is seeking political asylum. I have a student who is here as a refugee. I also have a student here on an H4 Visa because of her husband's job. Their stories inspire me.
I printed an article from www.newsela.com U.S. border agents fire tear gas on migrants, close Mexico crossing. In the free advanced ESL classes at the college I work at, typically the students will be leaving our program to find employment or attend college-credit classes, so it's really important that we try and work on all four language components every class: reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
I allowed the students to read the article. Then I read the article to them. Finally, we dissected it and really focused on the main ideas or topic sentences for each section.
My students had a fabulous discussion. Immigration has played a central role in every one of their lives. It was also amazing to see the thoughtfulness behind the student who supported the @realDonaldTrump tweet:
But it was equally as thought-provoking to hear the student seeking political asylum say that the President was partially right. The Newsela article stated that some people at the border were trying to escape poverty and violence. My student said fleeing poverty is not a reason for asylum. You must have fear of persecution because of race, nationality, religion, belonging to a particular social group, or because of your political opinion. Which we verified at https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum.
I should mention that both the student in the US as a refugee and the student seeking politically asylum are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The third student present in class yesterday is from China. So the shared nationality in their home country definitely played into some of the discussion - especially providing some background knowledge to the other student about the Rwadan genocide of the 1990s. And it was the students from the DRC that did the majority of interacting with the text and debating whether or not the migrants at the border should be allowed to enter and request asylum in the United States.
I am grateful that the students from DRC are safe now. I am grateful that they are educating others about why it may be important to keep the border closed - or why it may be important to allow people to come into the US and request political asylum. I am grateful that they are comfortable asking me questions like, "Is there really war in Mexico?" I am grateful that they are teaching me as much about their culture as I am teaching them English. But what I am most grateful for, what helps me the most is to know that every time I work with these people I am helping them change their world.