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Understanding Immigration and Refugees

On the homepage of Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, it reads: “The monumental triumph of escaping abusive environments often demands everything from survivors.” While this is not the story of every immigrant or refugee entering the United States, HRI was founded to help the tens of thousands of people for whom it is true. 

With so much misinformation about immigrants and the immigration system, it’s natural and convenient to paint this entire community with the same brush. As educators and advocates, we must fight to avoid this trap. Here are a few ways.

1) Know the different types of immigrants

These are just a few of the different types of immigration status, according to the State Justice Institute: Naturalized citizens, conditional permanent resident, special immigrant juvenile, VAWA self-petitioner, refugee or asylum seeker, and crime victim or witness. 

Each status has unique challenges and will need different types of support. Some people will just need a helping hand. Others will need financial and material support for their families. Others will need intensive healing from the pain and trauma of fleeing a dangerous situation.  

2) Know where immigrants are coming from

While 25% come from Mexico, it might surprise you that 28% of all USA immigrants actually come from various regions of Asia.  Of course, other regions make up significant shares. According to Pew Research, it breaks down like this: Europe, Canada and other North America (13%), the Caribbean (10%), Central America (8%), South America (7%), the Middle East and North Africa (4%), and sub-Saharan Africa (5%). 

3) Know their intelligence and challenges

Since 1970, a higher percentage of US immigrants have earned college degrees than native-born Americans. It’s very important to let this information lead to curiosity, not conclusions. There are so few things true of “most” immigrants, and even less that is true of “all” immigrants. 

If you were born and raised in a small town in South Carolina, New York City might feel like another country. Think of all the cultural differences: new colloquialisms, the pace of foot traffic, less personal space, fewer pleasantries in conversation. Even with a mastery of English, we struggle to navigate the legal system, leasing documents, the DMV, slick car salesmen, and the dozens of other tasks immigrants must complete just to settle in and start building a life for themselves and their families. 

As educators and literacy advocates, we must do the extra work it takes to meet our students where they are. English language learners and their families take many different paths to find their homes in the United States. What do we need to know about each student’s journey to help them move forward?

From August 2-4, Kali Cohn, the Director of Advocacy for HRI, will be leading sessions on “ Understanding Immigration and Refugees” as part of the 2021 Literacy Texas Annual Conference. She’ll break down the basics of how the immigration system works, where refugees and asylum seekers fit in, and what to do if your student needs support navigating the immigration system.

Visit to register and learn about the other speakers and sessions offered at this extraordinary event.

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