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Theogony

The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School

Theogony

The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School

Theogony

T.C.’s International Enrollment Falls, and Some Blame Trump

While enrollment at T.C. has steadily grown, the International Academy, where recent immigrants and English language learners attend school, has seen a steep drop in student body size in the last two years. Some administrators and teachers say that immigration policies under President Trump are to blame.
While enrollment at T.C. has steadily grown, the International Academy, where recent immigrants and English language learners attend school, has seen a steep drop in student body size in the last two years. Some administrators and teachers say that immigration policies under President Trump are to blame.

Griffin Harris and Maria Areyan

There are signs that the Trump administration’s immigration policies are having real and substantial effects at T.C., according to people close to the situation.

Overall enrollment at T.C. has increased steadily over the last seven years. However, in the last two years, enrollment in the International Academy (IA), where T.C. students who are recent immigrants to the United States learn, has fallen by roughly 20 percent, or about 160 students.

“Sometimes, students just disappear from classes,” one administrator who is familiar with the IA said. “A lot of the kids are afraid. They’re afraid that immigration police will come.”

At the end of the school year in 2015, IA enrollment was 591. A year later, it increased to 653, and by the end of the 2016-2017 school year, during which President Trump took office, it had grown again to a peak of 791 students. In just two years, the figure had gone up 33 percent. During that time, the IA enrollment mirrored the overall trend of growth at Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS).

By the following school year, though, the opposite had begun to happen. Enrollment dropped by more than 100 students at the end of the 2017-18 year, from 791 to 686. At the time of writing, it is 631, down about 55 students from what it was last June.

Two IA teachers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, called the trend “a significant decline” and attributed it largely to “immigration patterns” since the beginning of the Trump administration.

The ACPS Central Office provided enrollment data for past years as of the last day of school, and not on a monthly or bi-yearly basis. It does, however, fluctuate frequently, and these end-of-year numbers show only the most general trends. In December of this school year, IA enrollment was at one point 585, more than 200 students below what it was in its 2017 peak. After an influx of students at the start of the new calendar year–which happens consistently, according to IA teachers–the enrollment came up to about 630, where it is now. T.C.’s IA program is the largest in the nation, according to Kristen McInerney, one of two administrators who directly oversees it.

Principal Peter Balas said that he has “heard real concerns” about immigration fears among students, but he added that the recent decline in IA enrollment at T.C. did not necessarily suggest a larger trend in ACPS. The extent to which federal immigration policy is enforced through, or with the cooperation of, local school systems is a subject of continuing controversy. An administrator said that she also knew of cases where elementary students at ACPS had left school because their parents had been deported.

McInerney did not acknowledge a direct relationship between enrollment and immigration policy in an interview, but she did say that the IA, “reflects world events two to three years after they happen.” Maria Faz, the other administrator for the IA, declined to comment for this story.

An administrator familiar with the IA who spoke anonymously said that “it’s very clear” that immigration policy is the cause of the change in enrollment over the last two years–a message that teachers in the academy agree with.

Stricter immigration laws and enforcement were some of the central promises of President Trump’s 2016 campaign, and they have remained at the top of his priority list for the last two years.

Just five days after his inauguration, Trump signed two executive orders that called for increased deportations of illegal immigrants who had been charged with or convicted of a crime, penalties on sanctuary cities, broader use of local police data to arrest illegal immigrants, and more detention facilities along the southern border of the United States. New arrivals at the top of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also supported tighter enforcement of immigration laws.  

Four months into Trump’s term, in May of 2017, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency within Homeland Security, announced that its arrest rate for illegal immigrants was up almost 38 percent from a year earlier.

Students in the IA say they’ve seen the results of this. “You feel scared,” said one IA student, a recent emigrant from El Salvador, who described how two of his friends were deported from the United States when they were in middle school. Another student in the IA said that she had friends and family members who have been caught in local ICE raids.

An administrator recounted conversations she has had with parents of students who abruptly dropped out. They were often similar cases, she said. “They will call and say, ‘My husband got deported and now we have to move’…They sometimes live with other family members who are here legally, or their family will just move to a different state,” the administrator said.

T.C. teachers and administrators who discussed immigration policy said that the most impactful change by the Trump administration has yet to take effect. At the end of 2017 and in the beginning of 2018, DHS, at Trump’s behest, began to announce end dates in late 2019 and early 2020 for programs that allowed Haitians, Hondurans, and El Salvadorans to live and work in the United States This program, called Temporary Protected Status (TPS), allows residents from designated countries to reside in the United States and obtain an employment authorization document. Teachers and administrators at T.C. say that many of the parents from IA students hold this temporary status that allows them to stay in the United States

“I think that you will see even more decreases in the enrollment here” after the end of TPS programs, one teacher in the IA said.

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T.C.’s International Enrollment Falls, and Some Blame Trump