Migration has been an integral part of our experience since humans first walked the earth; while it has ebbed and flowed over time, it is ubiquitous. Across history, skepticism, fear, and intolerance associated with differences have developed into deeply ingrained class and culture hierarchies leading to conflict, intolerance, and violence. In a world with more and more people on the move, educating young people to learn to live with, work with, and respect our differences is essential for the survival of democracy. This is not an option—it is an imperative.
Re-imagining Migration’s mission is to advance the education and well-being of immigrant-origin youth, decrease bias and hatred against young people of diverse origins, and help rising generations develop the critical understanding and empathy necessary to build and sustain welcoming and inclusive communities.
We achieve this by enriching our understanding of human migration, leveraging educators as pivotal agents of change, and empowering young people as civic agents—the life force of vibrant democratic societies.
Over recent years, the United States has experienced an alarming increase in polarization, xenophobia, and hate. Significant demographic changes associated with immigration, increased focus on the need for racial justice, deeply fractured partisan politics, and rampant disinformation that obfuscates the truth have created a powder keg of discord and violence that threatens our shared future. Bridge builders are desperately needed to create the foundations of inclusive and connected identities across time, place, and culture.
The children of immigrants are one of the fastest-growing sectors of the US population, accounting for 26 percent of children and 33 percent of all young adults. Eighty-five percent of these children and youth are recognized as people of color, and the backlash against them has been especially virulent. Anti-immigrant attitudes reveal the way that racist ideas of difference drive prejudice and policy. Indeed, racial castes have shaped newcomers’ lives in the United States since the first European colonists and enslaved Africans encountered the Native People of North America.
Years of xenophobic rhetoric and policy have taken a toll on all of us. Schools and other educational institutions are in the crucible, tasked with preparing all young people to build a shared future with people whose identities, experiences, and worldviews are often different than their own. Educators are struggling. Wide spread myths and stereotypes about immigrants are leading to increases in bullying and bigotry directed at immigrants from their non-immigrant peers and from teachers as well. Not surprisingly, the longer immigrant students are in US schools, the more likely they are to become disengaged.
Few places in this country are untouched by these demographic changes. The future success of all young people is dependent on their ability to understand, empathize, and work with newcomers and across difference. The failure to address these challenges threaten the future of our economic, social, and civic life.
In the current environment, Immigrant-origin youth are often targets of overlapping prejudices as both members of immigrant families and as young people of color. Yet, as children of immigrants, they are often left out of the recent conversations about equity. 85 percent of immigrant-origin young people are perceived as young people of color. These young people are the faces of the future and we should all be rooting for their success. However, anxiety about demographic change threatens that support.
While the children of immigrants arrive in our communities and classrooms eager to learn, speak English, acculturate, and thrive, these positive attitudes are being undermined by social hostility, divisive rhetoric, and anti-immigrant bigotry circulating on social and news media. Anti-immigrant fervor, and anti-immigrant legislation are on the rise. They have been accompanied, and driven, by wide-spread increases in hate groups, hate literature and hate crimes. And the additional stress related to immigration enforcement, COVID, economic losses, and school disruption present profound challenges for children of immigrant families and are disrupting life for all of us.
Classroom walls cannot keep xenophobia from cascading into schools, contributing to toxic learning environments for both educators and students. It is the air all young people are breathing in; while immigrant-youth are often the targets, their peers’ chances of success are also hindered by the spread of prejudice, myth and misunderstanding. For young people to thrive socially and academically, and to take their place as civic actors in their community, it is essential that they are able to develop strong and cooperative relationships across cultural, ethnic, racial, and political differences.
Despite the urgency of these challenges, learning how to best serve immigrant-origin students, teach about human migration, or how to manage difficult conversations about our changing communities is rarely part of educator training.
Given the rapid growth in the number of children and youth from immigrant families and the difficult circumstances they face, neither ignoring the situation nor addressing it with ad hoc solutions is an option. We have developed a fresh, new perspective on migration, recognizing it as one of our most basic human experiences; a new promising practices network of networks, to enable this perspective to be adopted widely and effectively in schools, informal educational settings, and social change organizations; and a robust national campaign addressing this new perspective to positively re-message migration in a way that fosters the academic, social, and emotional needs of immigrant-origin and their peers.
- Re-imagining Migration creates research-based solutions and provides them to educators.
- Educators then construct research-based interventions for schools, community organizations, and cultural institutions.
- We have also created an international network of educational changemakers and organizations to promote the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that sustain inclusive and welcoming communities so that all young people have the opportunity to thrive and positively contribute to society.
We know that we can’t do this work alone. We have forged active partnerships and collaborations with organizations that reach over 12 million young people a year. Both the depth and breadth of our work is expanding. By 2025, our work will reach approximately half of the school-aged students in the United States.
By providing tools and professional learning for educators, we are nurturing current and future generations with the knowledge, empathy and mindsets that sustain inclusive and welcoming communities.