An unlikely group of education organizations came together with the AFT on Sept. 12 to protect DACA recipients and undocumented students and their families, vowing to work with immigrant advocates to pass the federal Dream Act. The event, a telephone town hall, sent a united message to the Trump administration and to Congress: DACA recipients have a world of allies who will fight to keep them safe.
The call served two purposes: to give educators resources to help their students, families and community members; and to underscore a commitment to passing the Dream Act, legislation that could provide the 850,000 recipients of the DACA program with a pathway to permanent legal status and eventual citizenship.
The call was prompted by President Trump's Sept. 5 announcement terminating DACA.
DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, protects immigrant youth from deportation by granting temporary resident status to those who were brought to the United States as children, allowing them to attend school and be legally employed.
While the program phases out March 5, 2018, no new DACA applications are being accepted as of Sept. 5. DACA recipients whose work permits expire between Sept. 5 and March 5 must submit DACA renewal applications by Oct. 5.
Congress has until March 5 to pass a legislative solution to Trump's repeal of DACA.
"We need to put every bit of our energy into the fight for the Dream Act and to make sure we safeguard our DACAmented students, teachers and young people," said AFT President Randi Weingarten.
Weingarten was joined by an unlikely roster of allies—education organizations that, as she pointed out, don't always "see eye to eye," but that do agree they must protect people with DACA status. Participants included representatives from Education for Excellence, the Education Trust, Stand for Children and Teach for America. Former Education Secretary John King and leaders from the National Immigration Law Center and United We Dream were also on the call, along with educators anxious to learn how to help their students and families.
"All of us are on this call because we share deep concern for the nearly 2 million undocumented youth who were brought here and are potentially eligible for DACA," said King, who called the DACA repeal "unnecessary, irresponsible and immoral."
"Over the last five years, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants came forward in good faith," he continued. "Right now, DACA recipients are teaching and learning in our public schools, attending our institutions of higher education and participating more fully in our workforce, which benefits the entire economy." For most of them, he said, "America is the only country they have ever known."
Representing the thousands of people affected by DACA policy was Ricardo Alvarez, an AFT and Teach for America member with DACA status. Alvarez, who came to the United States from Mexico at age 7, became a teacher because when he was growing up in California, he had only one teacher who looked like him—a Latino immigrant. He teaches in a New York City school with a majority immigrant population.
DACA has been a "life-transforming experience" for people like Alvarez, said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, and his work as a teacher is part of what makes schools among the most trusted places among Latino families looking for information about immigration status. "Opening up your classrooms with information is critical," she said.
NILC is providing fact sheets and posting resources on WeAreHereToStay.org. The AFT has extensive resources, including a guide for educators, posters, flyers, know-your-rights information and legal references, on our immigration page. Meanwhile, NILC has lined up several legal challenges to the DACA repeal. Among the most urgent is a stay of the Oct. 5 deadline for renewing DACA permits that expire within the next six months.
Other speakers—including Jonah Edelman, CEO of Stand for Children; Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach for America; and Evan Stone, co-founder and co-CEO of Education for Excellence—discussed legislative details of preserving DACA, and many called for a "Clean Dream," meaning a Dream Act without harmful provisions such as funding for a border wall and increased internal enforcement.
"We have to keep the pressure up," said Weingarten, who also pledged to throw herself in front of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to protect DACA-holding immigrants. "If we show our solidarity to fight for the Dream Act, and we also fight in a way that people see that we mean it, that will send a clarion call."
"We are not going back into the shadows," said Greisa Martinez, advocacy director at United We Dream. "We are ready to fight back. The country is behind us, and there's nothing that can stop us." She ended her remarks with a heartfelt song:
"We have come too far.
We won't turn around.
We'll flood the streets with justice.
We are freedom bound."