With the continued and increasing growth of the immigrant population in the United States, the education of migrants has been an area of increased attention among various sectors of the U.S. educational system. The majority of migrants in the United States are seasonal agricultural workers from Mexico with their primary residences outside of the United States. These workers represent a large percentage of the overall farm labor pool, accounting for an estimated 56 percent of all U.S. farm workers. Despite the fact that this agricultural workforce is a vital source of labor for this industry, nearly 75 percent earn less than $10,000 per year, a level well below the poverty line. In addition, these workers receive extremely limited employer benefits, and many receive none. This entry looks at the problem and some efforts to address it.
The majority of migrants enter the United States with low levels of education. The median educational level of migrant workers from Mexico is at the sixth-grade level, and only 15 percent reported as graduating high school. In addition, only 21 percent of these workers reported receiving an education in the United States. Small numbers of these workers (approximately 3 percent) attend college or a university, or receive any vocational training. Research indicates that the possibility of a migrant attending classes in the United States at a college or university is directly related to the level of education he or she achieved in Mexico; the higher the level of education achieved in Mexico, the greater the chances that the individual will seek educational training in the United States. Because of the low levels of education achieved in their home country, many migrant workers (approximately 20 percent) are rated as completely illiterate, and another 38 percent are functionally illiterate.
Like their adult counterparts, the children of this population sector are also at risk for achieving low levels of education. Although the majority of the children of these farm workers were born in the United States (approximately 73 percent), they are more likely to drop out of school or lag behind their peers. For those children of migrant workers who followed in their parents’ footsteps and worked on farms, the prospects of educational success are even more dim. Among this group, nearly one third fall behind or drop out of school. Because of the combined effects of poor or nonexistent health care, poor nutrition, poverty, and high absenteeism from school, the children of migrants are considered one of the most disadvantaged populations in the country.
Although for many years the location of migrant work was primarily located in states along the U.S.– Mexico border, many migrants are now entering and working in regions that are deep within the country. Migrant populations deal with significant discrimination, and because of their lack of education and permanent residence, they often have difficulty in terms of being treated equitably.
To assist this population, the U.S. Department of Education developed the Office of Migrant Education to provide services and other forms of assistance to the children of families who migrate to the United States. Some of these services include Title I Migrant Education Program, which provides grants to state educational agencies specifically for migrant children; Migrant Education Even Start, which is designed to improve overall family literacy through a unified program; High School Equivalency Program, a program that helps the children of migrant farm workers receive their General Education Development certificate.
The rules for benefit eligibility are restrictive. As an example, in order for migrant children to receive U.S. government services, the child must have relocated from one school district to another in the United States within a three-year time frame to obtain seasonal or temporary work in fishing or agriculture, or they had to accompany a guardian or parent seeking this type of work.
Other recent efforts to minimize the marginalization of migrants and their children include the tracking of students and their school records across different school districts and regions as parents move to seek new work, as well as the development of stronger labor and advocacy groups that address migrant needs.
In spite of these efforts, the situation is still problematic as this sector continues to grow. As recently as 2002, an estimated 819,000 migrant children lived within U.S. borders.
- Cline, Z., Reyes, M. L., & Necochea, J. (Eds.). (2005). Introduction to the special issue: Educational lives on the border. Journal of Latinos and Education, 4(3), 149–152.
- Gibson, M. A. (2003). Improving graduation outcomes for migrant students. ERIC Digest No. ED478061.
- Huang, G. G. (2002). What federal statistics reveal about migrant farmworkers: A summary for education. ERIC Digest No. ED471487.
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