OUR STORIES | Emilia Gonzales Avalos on immigrants and GED

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Emilia Gonzales Avalos is the director of advocacy and community engagement at NavigateMN. Recently, we talked about immigrants and GED classes in Minnesota. [FULL DISCLOSURE: Cirien Saadeh works for the Asamblea de Derechos Civiles and works on immigration issues.]

To start, what is Navigate?

Navigate is a leadership development program for immigrant young adults in Minnesota facing financial, social and legal barriers to achieve their dreams through changing unjust systems. Through NAVIGATE, these young adults help their community and themselves by working to access college education, jobs and legal status.

The GED is an important tool for many immigrant communities and communities of color. Have you seen that to be true for the Latino community, documented or undocumented? 

It is important to mention, that DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] would allow eligible applicants to get a renewable work permit, a social security number, and in the state of MN, a drivers license. This means to many families, a way to sustain themselves in a legitimate way, walking out of the shadows in these hard economic times. This measure is about access to disenfranchised and many times abused communities looking for a better future.

We saw many immigrant students go back to school after DACA was announced in 2012. Since it has an education requirement, a lot of eligible individuals went back to school to pursuit pending businesses. It is right, GED and high school diplomas are important for all communities, however we have to acknowledge that dropout rates are not about cultural priorities, but about access. Many immigrant families rely on more than one income to support family members and cover basic needs. Once some members of the family hit a working age, they are encouraged to take on a job to help the family. Families know the importance of education, it’s the economic context that many times interfere with graduation. DACA provided a great opportunity to encourage graduation and a renew a personal commitment to education.

What can the GED program do to be more effective and useful for the Latino community (documented or undocumented), particularly given the changes soon to make the GED more difficult?

It’s always about access. Culturally adequate teachers and instructors, inclusive and reflective curricula, positive environment, education support, tutors, mentors, flexibility.

How can Minnesota better serve the needs of the Latino community (documented or undocumented) in terms of access to education?

Equity. Places to live, learn, and play. More art, more funding investing directly to communities of color. Support for afterschool programs. Culturally competent advisers, counselors, and curricula. Ethnic studies? Encourage civil engagement. The list goes on!