Migrant influx impacting DG community

Migrant influx impacting DG community

Migrant and asylum seeker arrival rates are at an all time high, with busloads of asylees entering the sanctuary city of Chicago. Many are fleeing political, social, and economic unrest. The rise of immigrants in these areas could mean some changes for DGN enrollment. According to the Dupage County website, 72 buses have arrived at various train stations in DuPage County, containing 2,988 passengers, since Dec. 14, 2023. The buses full of migrants being sent to Illinois and Chicago have largely
come from Texas under the direction of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.


“The bus passengers many have inquired about are not breaking the law. It makes an enormous difference if they’re
seeking asylum,” Downers Grove Mayor Bob Barnett said. “Seeking asylum is legal and those who are in the process of doing so are permitted to remain in the United States throughout the process, a process defined in part by the Refugee Act of 1980. To the best of our knowledge, the bus passengers that many have questions about, have begun the process of seeking asylum while in Texas or at another US Port of Entry.”


The Refugee Act of 1980 established procedures for noncitizens to seek asylum and provided for the admission of, and adjustment of status of refugees. This Act required the establishment of a procedure for a noncitizen who meets the definition of a refugee to apply for and be granted asylum if physically present in the United States regardless of the person’s immigration status.


“I can confidently say we’ve seen more students who are newcomers to the country. We have always had international students, so we have had that before. It isn’t just affiliated with political discussion around the buses and Texas, it’s bigger than that,” Associate Principal of Student Services Dr. Erin Ludwick said. “We’ve had some Ukrainian refugees come, so we have had an increase in newcomers. I would anticipate that that continues, just because of what is going on in the world.”


Dr. Ludwick is the point person for DGN transfers and enrollment. She also serves as the Mckinney-Vento liaison, a law that ensures that students dealing with homelessness are able to enroll quickly. Schools cannot bar the enrollment of students who qualify for Mckinney-Vento services and are obligated to enroll them right away.


“If a kid is not in school, they are not learning, they are going to fall behind, there are going to be gaps,” Dr. Ludwick said. “So we will enroll students right away per the regulatory guidelines, and then if we need to tease out things like address, parents don’t have a license yet, don’t have proof of income, but maybe would qualify for free or reduced lunch, we would enroll the student right away and then work to get resources.”


The asylum process can take anywhere from as little as six months to as long as several years. While asylum applications are pending, applicants are authorized to remain in the United States while waiting for a decision and cannot
be deported. Additionally, during this time, they may apply for an Employment Authorization Document from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. State Department data suggests that since the passage of the Refugee Act in 1980, the United States has accepted more than 3.8 million refugees and asylees.


“I’ve made a point of observing several of the bus arrivals from last year personally. Without a specific count, I would estimate 80 percent plus of those that have arrived in Downers Grove by bus, have continued their journey via METRA headed for the Federal processing center in Chicago,” Barnett said. “Others have been picked up by personal vehicles. While we continue to do our best to ensure the safety of all in our community, we do not believe that immigration poses any unique threat to the safety of Downers Grove residents, businesses, or guests.”


The DGN English Language Learners (ELL) program offers support to students whose primary language is not English. This community of learners is comprised of people with different backgrounds and allows students a welcoming space for a variety of cultures to intersect.


“I think that as a whole, I find our student body to be very supportive, compassionate, and welcoming. We try to be mindful in making sure that diverse and rich stories are represented in everything we do. We already do things as a school that elevate different cultures, I think we just need to keep doing that and being mindful of how cultures shift at times,” Ludwick said.


The ELL program focuses on allowing students to assimilate to life at DGN while maintaining their own culture and language.


“When you take classes in EL, a big thing that they focus on is having kids continue to speak their first language while also improving their English speaking abilities. The whole process is meant to make sure that they don’t lose their first language, but that they’re also picking up on English as well, academically and socially,” ELL social studies teacher Milanka Vasilic said.


The Languages and Cultural Club aims to display the diversity of the student body at DGN. The club brings together new and existing students at DGN to help them to feel welcome in an unfamiliar place.


“I have noticed the leadership aspect of other students being willing to say ‘I am going to help this student find this class, I am going to help them figure out what to do for lunch, I’ll help find their bus.’ It’s been great to have kids take that ownership of helping their peers, and as the teachers we are here to facilitate that, but it’s really good for students themselves to have the experience getting used to what it is like to go to school in the US, because a lot of the times the schooling here is not the same as schooling in their home country,” Vasilic said.


A possible increase in migrants and asylees at DGN could mean growing ELL class sizes.


“I think it means that our program is going to get bigger. Our school is going to get more diverse,” Vasilic said. “We’re going to be hearing a lot more languages in our hallways and in our classrooms. Maybe languages that are already here, maybe aren’t already here. I think it will be a good experience to have those interactions with kids from all around the world, and kind of figure out what does it mean to be a high school student in 2024, and how can you all help each other, but how can we as the teachers help you. And so the program is growing, it’s been growing since I started here, we keep adding more classes, we have more support in place, to make sure that students fit in and that they feel like they have a space and a home here.”


Rising numbers of incoming migrants could mean changes for DGN and the surrounding community, but school resources will provide newcomers with the tools they need to succeed.


“We welcome all residents, businesses and guests to experience our communiy and we are committed to ensuring the highest standards of public safety and equal treatment for all under the law,”Barnett said.

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