AFT pledges to protect undocumented students and educators

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After months of promising to deport millions of people if he were elected, Donald Trump is about to become president, and he could begin to carry out those promises as soon as Jan. 20. In classrooms and on campuses across the nation, undocumented immigrants, from preschoolers to college students, are terrified. Immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status and visa-contingent educators are also worried that changing immigration policies could jeopardize their safety.

The AFT is corralling resources to help.

Stop deportation signDuring a telephone town hall Nov. 22, AFT President Randi Weingarten assured call participants—teachers and school staff, college faculty, healthcare professionals, public employees and students, some who are themselves undocumented immigrants—that the AFT will "do everything in our power to stop any kind of action against our immigrant families, our Muslim families, our Latino families and especially our undocumented students." Then she turned quickly to specifics and, together with leading immigrant advocates, outlined practical advice as well as actions the union will take to protect immigrant families living in uncertainty.

The AFT will:

  • Support cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and others as they reaffirm sanctuary status for immigrants and in some cases establish municipal ID programs to protect immigrants with no identification from being detained unnecessarily.
  • Help members establish and maintain sanctuary status in schools, colleges and communities.
  • Provide guidance and resources for teachers, staff and faculty to support and prepare undocumented students and their families for changes in immigration law—including basic "know your rights" advice on how to handle an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid and what to do if family members are detained.
  • Provide lesson plans to address the social, emotional and mental health needs of all children and promote diversity and inclusion.
  • Urge the government to reaffirm that children cannot be barred from enrolling in public schools based on their immigration status or their parents'.
  • Participate in a national week of mobilization, education and action Jan. 9-14 spearheaded by United We Dream and other immigrant advocates, and in a day of action Jan. 19 organized with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools.

Resources for educators are already available at the AFT's Share My Lesson  and on the AFT's immigration page.

On the call, Weingarten said the need for action is urgent; AFT educators and students face real threats. Among their fears: the dismantling of the 2012 DACA program, which grants undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria a two-year, renewable work authorization and protection from deportation. More than 740,000 individuals, many of whom are now teachers, nurses, lawyers, adjunct faculty and college students, have benefited from the program and are contributing to their communities—so much so that dismantling DACA would cost $433 billion in gross domestic product over a decade, according to a Center for American Progress estimate.

Immigrant childOther fears include night raids by armed immigration agents, and family separations as some are deported and others left behind. Undocumented and "DACAmented" college students are afraid that after years of striving to become educated, productive Americans, they will be forced back into the shadows or deported to violent places where they have no family or friends and don't speak the language.

DACA students have been at the forefront of immigration advocacy, calling themselves "undocumented and unafraid." But for many, that confidence has been shaken: "The level of despair has gotten to a point that we have received reports of young people who have taken their own lives," reported Cristina Jiménez, executive director of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country. The group offers a range of services for undocumented youth and families, including a bilingual support hotline: 844-363-1423.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, also had practical advice for the town hall participants, with answers to commonly asked questions: Should undocumented youth apply for DACA now? No. Apply for renewal? Yes. Travel abroad? Only if you return before Jan. 20. A new NILC website has more specific answers, and Hincapié urged participants to share it widely.

Maria Blanco said the Undocumented Legal Services Center at the University of California-Davis School of Law, where she is executive director, offers help with DACA applications and renewals, requests for travel and more. Students there are demanding tougher prohibitions to keep colleges from sharing information about immigration status, prohibitions on ICE activity on campus, and prohibitions on campus police collaboration with ICE. That is already the status quo, said Blanco, and is defensible in court.

"We have to hope for the best but prepare for the worst," said U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). She is especially concerned for young people who shared their personal information with the government when they applied for DACA status. Lofgren has asked President Obama to pardon them or purge their information from government records.

Maria Dominguez, a DACAmented first-grade bilingual teacher and Education Austin member in Austin, Texas, has turned her personal fears into action, wiping her own tears to comfort her students when they asked why Donald Trump had been elected, and sharing her story widely. She is grateful for the support she and the immigrant community have gotten from her local AFT affiliate, the school district and even the mayor. But she is still fearful for her students and her own family. "I ask myself, is everything going to be ok?"

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) inserted a determined optimism, noting the resilience of the Arizona community as it defeated SB 1070, the harshest immigration law on record. "We overturned many, many anti-Dreamer initiatives," he said. "There will be some hard times and there will be some teary times, but we will buckle down, strengthen our relationships with our allies, and no matter what happens we will be successful," he said. "We are going to have an Arizona success on the national level."

The AFT's Guide for Educators and School Support Staff includes advice on how to support and protect immigrant youth and families in case of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid. You can also request a copy by email from cmoreno@aft.org.

[Virginia Myers/NILC photos]