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Helping Immigrant Children: How Educators Can Support Students Before & After an ICE Raid

By William Foley, Jr., CEI Intern and Dana Asby, CEI Director of Innovation & Research Support

After the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in Mississippi, children left school to find their homes empty. With their parents gone, many relied on the kindness of strangers or relatives. While the events in Mississippi made headlines nationally because of their scale, these tactics are commonplace across the country. These raids are creating chaos in many communities that can harm children’s mental health (Zayas, and Heffron 2016; Diaz 2019).

As educators, it is our duty is to teach the whole child in front of us. But how do you teach a child who is actively experiencing the trauma of having their community torn apart? There are numerous strategies schools can employ to help support students before and after an ICE raid.

Preparing Your School for an ICE Raid

Before a raid occurs, create partnerships with Hispanic community leaders, churches, and organizations. Try to understand what they are doing to protect their community, what they need, and if your school can help. Some schools have implemented an immigration point of contact to reach out to vulnerable families in times of crisis.

ICE raids can happen during the day and often occur during school hours. Staff should be prepared for the possibility that they may need to inform students that their parent or guardian has been arrested. Administrators should work together with school counselors, psychologists, and social workers to formulate a plan to respond to these situations. One consideration is to ensure that you find a safe, quiet space to gently explain what has happened and offer to start making phone calls reaching out to extended family or friends.

One important aspect of preparation for an ICE raid is to communicate to all students and parents that their school is a safe space. For example, a young student of mine recently kept repeating, “I hope I don’t get deported.” I responded, “You won’t in my classroom. You’re safe here with me,” and I meant it. Traditionally, schools are in the same category as churches and hospitals. ICE should refrain from enforcement on school grounds. Lately, however, ICE and the Border Patrol have been ignoring precedent. Charter and private schools can insist that ICE does not enter private property without a legal warrant. Public school teachers are bound by FIRPA to not share information about their students (Wald et. All 2017). Because ICE warrants are not legal but rather administrative warrants, no teacher or administrator is obligated to cooperate with ICE. Administrators should inform all staff of their rights to prepare them for a potential ICE raid.

Responding to an ICE Raid in Your Community

Children who have seen family members, neighbors, and community leaders detained by ICE demonstrate visible signs of trauma (Camera 2016). There are some instances in which the students themselves may have been detained. In these cases, it can be possible they didn’t know their immigration status until the raid happened. Students may come to school confused, worried, scared, and upset. As educators, we can be the one kind, caring adult a child needs to buffer against the adverse effects of the toxic stress that they are experiencing. Take a second to offer your students a hug, an ear, and a safe space.

Some students may not feel comfortable talking to the teacher or the counselor one-on-one, but may feel open to sharing their own experience once they’ve heard about what others in their class are going through. Make space for students to have the conversations they need to have. Restorative circles have been shown to successfully address school climate issues (Saufler 2011) and traumatic events (Bledsoe 2018). By giving students a chance to sit together and discuss why something negative happened, everyone gets an opportunity to understand each others’ perspectives more deeply. In a community that was traumatized together, dialogue can help them heal together.

Students affected by raids often don’t come to school (Shoichet 2018). Schools need to be ready to accommodate prolonged absences from these students. Reach out to families to offer support, but be understanding about the inability for students to come to school during this time of crisis.

After an ICE raid, several heads of households and breadwinners may suddenly be in detention. Families living paycheck to paycheck may not know how they will pay this month’s rent. Older siblings may be thrust into the parent role overnight. It may be important for schools to support students as they learn to navigate the adult world. Often, school social workers may need to adjust their caseload to prioritize students in this situation shortly after an ICE raid. Students may need to learn how to budget and buy food and care for younger siblings. In some cities, social services cooperates with ICE to detain immigrants, so contacting churches, immigrant rights organizations, extended families, and other community organizations will be more effective.

Taking a Whole School Approach to Trauma-Informed Care

Taking steps to become a trauma-informed school will help all staff be better able to support students who have been touched by the trauma of immigration in some way. Staff should be trained to respond appropriately to childhood trauma, including being able to recognize the signs of trauma, such as (SAMHSA, n.d.):

  1. Eating poorly and losing weight

  2. Having nightmares

  3. Difficulty sleeping

  4. Difficulty concentrating

  5. Self-harming behaviors

  6. Alcohol or drug abuse

Trauma is unexpected and stems from events largely out of a student’s control so it becomes essential that teachers are predictable (Concordia 2018). A trauma informed classroom is one where students know what is going to happen. Use a student’s native language to support routines if appropriate. For older students, this may mean being predictable in your mannerisms and how you approach situations. Connect to the Hispanic community inside and around your school to work together to prepare for the effects of an ICE raid on your students. Offer support and listen to their needs. Take steps to inform your staff of their rights and how to respond to students and families who are actively experiencing the trauma of an ICE raid.


The Room 241 Team. (2018, September 4). Trauma-informed strategies to use in your classroom. Concordia University-Portland.

Bledsoe, W. (2018, November 8). The circle as sanctuary. Restorative Way: The Heart & Science of Conflict Resolution.

Camera, L. (2019, August 8). ICE raids send schools scrambling to care for children with no parents to go home to. U.S. News & World Report.

Lopez, W. & Novak, N. (2019, August 13). Educators: The unsung heroes supporting immigrant families in wake of ICE raids. The Hill.

Matlow, R. & Romero, M. (2016, February 2). Trauma and diversity: Addressing trauma and attachment in Latino immigrant youth and their families. International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Justice Consortium, Schools Committee, and Culture Consortium. (2017). Addressing race and trauma in the classroom: A resource for educators. Los Angeles, CA, and Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.

Robb-Nicholson, C. (n.d.). Writing about emotions may ease stress and trauma. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.

Saufler, C. (2011). School climate, the brain, and connection to school. Safe Schools for All.

Sloan, D. M., Sawyer, A. T., Lowmaster, S. E., Wernick, J. & Marx, B. P. (2015, May 14). Efficacy of narrative writing as an intervention forPTSD: Does the evidence support its use? Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 45 (4). 215-225.

Wald, M., Koski, W. S., Berry-Smith, J., Hite, C., & Li, R. (2017, June). Protecting undocumented and vulnerable students. California Charter Schools Association & Stanford Law School.

Zayas, L. H., & Heffron, L. C. (2016, November). Disrupting young lives: How detention and deportation affect US-born children of immigrants. American Psychological Association.


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