The ‘Loser Teachers’ Who Keep Immigrant Communities Together

Mar 1, 2019
12:57 PM

By William Lopez and Nicole Novak

When Donald Trump Jr. referenced the “indoctrination” by “loser teachers” at his father’s rally in El Paso last month, we were, as were so many others, insulted, angered, and embarrassed. While we echo the chorus of teachers who rebuked his unfounded slight, we offer yet another reason why, in this political moment, teachers are doing much of the work of holding our country together.

We are community health researchers who study the impact of immigration raids on the communities that experience them. Large scale work site immigration raids all but disappeared for nearly 10 years in the wake of the well-documented humanitarian disaster of the 2008 raid of a meatpacking plant in Postville, IA.

But the Department of Homeland Security has enthusiastically resumed use of large scale work site raids to detain undocumented immigrants and any “collateral” who happen to be standing nearby. We have visited three of the sites of worksite raids in the past year —Mt. Pleasant, IA, Paris,TX, and Bean Station, TN— to speak to the advocates and community members who supported those impacted by the sudden disappearance of their undocumented family members. Across sites, similarities in response were many. Numerous were the comparisons between post-raid communities and disaster zones following hurricanes or floods, as well as comparisons to war zones, military coups, and school shootings. Indeed, visiting churches stocked with canned food, soap, diapers, and feminine hygiene products to distribute after the raids to communities left scrambling left little doubt as to the chaos and fear that define the aftermath of these raids.

But another pattern emerged that made Trump Jr.’s comments that much more insipid and insulting. At every site —and we have no doubt that this finding will bear out at more raid sites across the country— teachers mobilized in the immediate aftermath of the raids to support the children whose parents had disappeared. Teachers agonized over how to tell their young students that they may not see their fathers in the U.S. again. Teachers strategized ways to ensure that kids didn’t get off the bus and go to empty homes. Teachers knocked on doors to tell children it was safe to come back to school. And some teachers in Texas and Tennessee even brought paper bags of food to children’s houses, knowing that their parents would be too scared to leave the home to buy groceries. Counselors, ELL teachers, superintendents, principals, many were the educators who stepped outside of the role of simply educating to make sure that their students, no matter their immigration status, no matter the color of their skin, and no matter their political party, could eat and learn their ABCs.

To us, having just witnessed the role of teachers after immigration raids, Trump Jr.’s words were insulting not only to those who teach our children, but those who care for them following disasters, whether those disasters are natural or manmade.


William Lopez is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Nicole Novak is an Assistant Research Scientist at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.