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Each year, an estimated 800,000 legal immigrants arrive in the U.S. An additional 500,000 undocumented immigrants cross our borders annually. While the numbers increase, the immigration debate rages. In the post-9/11 world, deportations have risen. New laws have imposed stricter rules for those seeking asylum in the U.S. The Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which would have provided a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, died before reaching the Senate floor.

In California, debate has been especially pointed. California is home to an estimated 9.9 million immigrants, about 27 percent of the state’s population. The state contains the largest population of undocumented immigrants in the nation, approximately 2.8 million. Anti-immigrant sentiments helped pass Proposition 187 (dubbed “Save Our State”) in 1994, which denied services, including education, to illegal immigrants. Although the initiative was overturned in the courts, just four years later, California voters approved Proposition 227, curtailing bilingual education in public schools.

Oakland, with its large African American population, became the center of a nationwide controversy in 1996, when the school board adopted a policy that Ebonics, or “black vernacular English,” be treated as a second language.

Amidst the backdrop of this heated national and local dialogue, Oakland International High School opened its doors to 100 incoming freshmen in 2007. Part of the Internationals Network for Public Schools, Oakland International is supported in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Its student body is made up of immigrants and refugees who have been in the U.S. for four years or less. The first school of its kind outside of New York, Oakland International espouses the “small schools” philosophy, limiting class size and keeping students with the same four teachers for their first two years of school. It is also an English-immersion program, taking students from countries as diverse as Mongolia, Liberia, El Salvador and Pakistan and schooling them in multiple subjects eight hours each day, all in English.

The nine New York schools in the Internationals Network for Public Schools have largely been success stories. They graduate 65 percent of their students in four years, compared to 33 percent for the English Language learners in regular schools. Over 90 percent of Internationals Network graduates go on to higher education. The Internationals Network for Public Schools is currently preparing to open a second school in the Bay Area, as well as a school in Los Angeles.