When the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Council of La Raza held their conferences in San Antonio and Phoenix this past week, AFT leaders and staff were instrumental in connecting education with immigrant rights; offering workshops for educators concerned about protecting their undocumented students; distributing know-your-rights immigration-related resources for educators, community leaders, schools and families; and describing community schools, social and emotional learning, anti-bullying programs and other tools that can help create vibrant learning communities for all students.
Nancy Vera, president of the AFT affiliate in Corpus Christi, Texas, led a passionate presentation about the AFT's role in passing the Every Student Succeeds Act, describing changes that support English language learners and underserved communities. She also warned about the Trump-DeVos proposed budget cuts to after-school programs and services that currently help in the educational success of Latino students.
An AFT workshop about ways educators can protect immigrant families drew more than 100 participants. High school teacher and Texas AFT member Areli Zarate, who came to the United States from Mexico when she was 8 years old, shared the shame she felt about being undocumented, and urged participants to educate their students and encourage them to become advocates for themselves. Cesar Moreno-Perez, with the AFT's human rights department, highlighted the constitutional rights and protections all students have, regardless of their or their parent's perceived immigration status. He stressed the importance of having protocols in place that protect the safety and well-being of all students and educators in case U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows up at school.
AFT resources flew off the exhibit booth tables—tip sheets from Colorín Colorado for parents and educators, fliers about community school services, and bilingual information sheets about how to handle an ICE raid. Know-your-rights fliers made it clear that all students, regardless of immigration status, have the right to a K-12 education, and that no ICE official can raid a public school campus looking for people to deport.
Immigration enforcement actions taken by the Trump administration jeopardize the safety and well-being of 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. The Department of Homeland Security removed the Obama administration's "priorities for deportation" policy that prioritized deporting undocumented immigrants who had committed a serious crime. The new rules place any undocumented immigrant at risk of being deported, even if they have never committed a crime, have paid taxes and are contributing members their communities.
Zarate ended her presentation with a call to action: "We must do all we can to inform students and families of their rights," she said. "We must have a plan in place. I ask you to join me and the AFT in this work—don't be a silent bystander. My life as a DACAmented teacher can be interrupted at any time if DACA is taken away. I may not have the right legal papers for U.S. citizenship, but I have the right values."