In another deferral of responsibility, President Trump has called to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, forcing Congress to decide the fate of 800,000 young people. Among the young people whose fates are now at the behest of Congress are DACAmented teachers.
Julia Sean, an 8th grade English teacher in San Antonio, is one of many DACAmented teachers whose future is now uncertain. Her reaction to the Tuesday morning announcement spoke to a common sentiment across the country: “Today, my heart is heavy. And shattered.”
The Obama-era program allows eligible immigrants who arrived in the country as children to obtain temporary work permits and administrative relief from deportation. With DACA work authorizations, ambitious young people like Julia are able to apply for teaching certification in certain states.
California, Nebraska and New York are among the few states that have opened up the licensing process for DACAmented youth, allowing them to obtain teacher certifications and other professional licenses. Other states, including Julia’s home state of New Jersey, continue to restrict eligibility.
Despite ill-defined certification processes, DACAmented teachers are bringing their diverse perspectives into the classroom. Julia, who spent a large part of her K-12 education undocumented, is intentional about nurturing important conversations in her classroom.
“My experiences are an asset to me when it comes to my students,” Julia said. “It's made me strive to make my classroom a place where we talk about the things that go on in the neighborhood [we] occupy and the world at large."
DACAmented teachers have also been a key safety net for undocumented students, serving as role models and helping them cope with the anti-immigrant sentiment that has reached their communities.
“There are undocumented students in every corner of this country and for them to know there are teachers who understand their struggle could be a huge relief for them...That would have made all the difference for me," Julia said.
With only six months left until the program is phased out, teachers and students alike are fighting to keep teachers in their classrooms.
DACA advocates are calling for leadership at all levels to act.
Congress has the responsibility to legislate permanent protections and work authorizations for DACAmented people, and they currently have many avenues to do so. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are sponsoring the Dream Act, which would offer DACAmented youth some of the same protections they receive under DACA plus a pathway to citizenship for those eligible.
Other options for Congress to consider are the Recognizing America's Children Act, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), the American Hope Act, sponsored by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), and the BRIDGE Act, sponsored by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.).
In the meantime, State leaders need to safeguard DACAmented teachers and make it easier for districts to hire immigrants with temporary legal status.
District leaders, given their direct impact to teachers and students, must publicly articulate support for their DACAmented students and teachers and develop safeguards to ensure teachers can continue teaching.
Though the exact number of working DACAmented teachers is unknown, a fervent movement of teachers is ready to put up a fight to move leadership forward.
“I want to make something absolutely clear: this fight is FAR from over. Today, we grieve. Tomorrow, the fight continues,” Julia said.