Hundreds of thousands of young immigrants’ lives are on the line this week as the Supreme Court begins arguments on whether Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—a policy that has protected qualifying young immigrants from deportation—will be allowed to stand. As AFT activists and other DACA supporters rallied outside, Supreme Court justices took up three consolidated cases that will determine whether DACA will continue. The AFT is a plaintiff in one, Trump v. NAACP.
Since it was established in 2012, DACA has allowed nearly 800,000 people—including many AFT members—who moved to the United States as children to live productive lives here, where they’ve been able to attend college, start careers and put down roots in the only country they’ve ever known, free from fear of deportation. Many are teachers and school support staff, with students who rely on them for consistent care and with schools that need them to continue work in the face of a nationwide teacher shortage.
If DACA is discontinued, recipients could lose everything—jobs, homes and families—as they become targets for deportation.
DACA status has been up in the air since President Trump declared in 2017 that it would end and lawsuits challenged his edict. Thus far, lower courts have ruled it illegal to repeal the measure, and hundreds of organizations and individuals from a broad spectrum of interest groups—including businesses, law enforcement leaders, healthcare professionals, academic institutions, local governments, religious organizations and more—have rallied to save DACA.
On Nov. 12, as the Supreme Court listened to opening arguments in the case, thousands of people stood outside the court holding signs and chanting, “home is here” and “undocumented, unafraid.”
“When I look at who is here, this is America,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten, who addressed the crowd. “You are America. … We need to use every bit of power we have, including the court,” to ensure DACA continues.
If DACA is rescinded, nearly 9,000 teachers who are in the program would be affected. Communities will be destabilized, and schools that are already experiencing teacher shortages will be caught short-handed. This is especially true in high-need schools and communities, where DACA recipients frequently serve as role models for the next generation of increasingly diverse students.
Karen Reyes, an AFT member, teacher and DACA recipient, is just one of many impacted by the status of DACA. Reyes, who was brought to the United States from Mexico when she was 2 years old and is a special education teacher who works with deaf students in Austin, Texas, has been outspoken about her status and passionate about defending DACA. She is a declarant in Trump v. NAACP.
“DACA made me visible,” says Reyes, recalling the days before the policy was passed, when undocumented immigrants lived in constant fear of deportation and were shut out of simple services like health insurance, driver’s licenses and many employment opportunities. “DACA validated my existence, my hard work and my contributions to my community. It allowed me the opportunity to pursue my dreams of becoming a classroom teacher.”
Reyes says it’s not just her life that is threatened by repealing DACA. Her students come from mixed-status families—that is, families where some members are documented and others are not—and many parents also have DACA. “President Trump’s divisive, xenophobic rhetoric and anti-immigrant policies are fomenting fear in their communities,” says Reyes. “How can we expect students to sit in class, to learn, to thrive, if they are unsure about their future? They don’t know if their families will still be home when they get off school. How can we expect parents to participate in back-to-school activities or parent-teacher night when rumors of an ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] raid have spread throughout the community?”
The same can be said for the thousands of college students who have DACA. When Trump announced he would end the program, more than 120,000 DACA recipients were enrolled in some sort of postsecondary education. AFT members who work in state colleges and universities, healthcare and public services work constantly with immigrant communities.
The movement to protect these communities “is not just about DACA,” says Reyes. “It’s about this latest attack on our immigrant community.” But she is optimistic that justice will prevail. “As a union member, I know that when we come together, we are very powerful. We didn’t just take this administration’s decision lying down. We came out and we fought, and the fight came all the way to the Supreme Court.”