07/24/2015

White House honors AFT teacher helped by DACA program

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AFT member Maria Dominguez is an immigration success story. What's more, she's a perfect example of why the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that President Obama announced three years ago has been such an important step in helping hardworking undocumented immigrants pursue the American dream.

Dominguez, who is now a first-grade bilingual teacher and an Education Austin activist, is one of nine teachers and community role models who were recognized on July 24 at the White House as a Champion of Change.

Maria DominguezDominguez's White House honor comes just a week after she told her story to some 2,000 educators at the AFT's TEACH conference. Beyond her work as an educator, teaching many students who are themselves undocumented, Dominguez has volunteered with Education Austin and other community organizations on citizenship drives, educational forums and clinics to help others through the DACA and citizenship process.

"I am one of over 650,000 DREAMers who have benefited" from DACA since 2012, she told the TEACH audience. "I continue to struggle to advocate for millions of others who are being kept in the shadows by our broken immigration system."

Says AFT President Randi Weingarten: "The AFT has always been committed to opening the doors of opportunity for all children, and immigration is an issue that touches every division of our organization and the communities we serve. Our members—including Maria Dominguez—are on the front lines working with new and aspiring Americans every day."

After coming to the United States from Mexico as a child with her mother and three siblings, Dominguez worked hard in school, earned college scholarships, and graduated with a degree in bilingual education from Texas State University in 2007. (Read more about her story.) But her lack of status as a legal resident prevented her from getting a job in the public school system, so she taught Sunday school at her church because it gave her an opportunity to work with children.

"I did not feel complete," she recalls. "I felt I needed to learn more and educate myself to better serve children. I entered the master's program at Texas State University and graduated in May 2012 with a degree in bilingual education and minor in educational leadership."

The following month, when President Obama announced the DACA program, which grants some undocumented immigrants a two-year work permit and an exemption from deportation, Dominguez was excited by the opportunity to work in her chosen profession. She earned her DACA status in December 2012.

"DACA has absolutely changed my life," she says. "Thanks to DACA, I accomplished one of my dreams, to begin working at a public school as a bilingual teacher and to give back to the community that helped me grow to be the person I am now. I was also able to obtain a Texas driver's license." In addition, she was able to travel back to her hometown in Mexico for the first time in more than 20 years.

"We need real leadership and real solutions, and the AFT and our members are showing the way," Weingarten says. "We join Maria Dominguez and her family, immigrants from Mexico, to celebrate Maria's accomplishments and also recognize the struggle of the thousands of other DREAMers who have worked hard, played by the rules and have been able to adjust their status through the DACA program."

[Dan Gursky, Cesar Moreno Perez, the White House/Pam Wolfe photo]