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Why TFA Supports DACA and Undocumented Students

Unless we unite around a pathway to citizenship, our teachers and students could face deportation.

By Viridiana Carrizales

February 28, 2017

Globe in the classroom.

Teach For America came out in support of the DREAM Act in 2011 to provide pathways to citizenship for children who came to the States without documentation. We believe all children deserve the right to pursue higher education and careers without a threat of deportation.

Meet Our Managing Director of DACA Corps Member Support

I was proud Teach For America took this stance because I was an undocumented student myself. My family came to this country in search of opportunity, escaping violence and poverty in Mexico. While my mother worked as a housekeeper and my father worked as a mechanic, I did what so many undocumented students do—hid my immigration status and focused on getting good grades in school.

Fortunately, I lived in Texas, one of the few states in the country that allowed undocumented students to attend college and pay in-state tuition. I was able to enroll and graduate from the University of Texas at Austin. Fourteen years later, I adjusted my status through my husband and sought a job where I could make a difference for immigrant youths.

That led me to Teach For America, where I’ve made it my mission to recruit and support corps members who are formerly undocumented immigrants and to train all corps members on how to help undocumented students navigate the education system.

On Teach For America’s Support

When Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act, Teach For America backed an interim solution presented by President Obama in June 2012 known as Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Qualified young adults, essentially the same group defined as DREAMers, could apply for DACA status and receive renewable, two-year work permits and temporary relief from deportation. This was life-altering for young immigrants, who were able to work, obtain driver’s licenses, get health insurance, open bank accounts and provide for their families.

In 2013, Teach For America was among the first organizations to recruit college graduates with DACA status into the workforce. Our first DACA cohort consisted of two teachers hired in one district. Today, 136 alumni and corps members with DACA status are working in classrooms to expand educational opportunities for more than 6,000 students in 11 states. Another 10 DACA alumni are promoting equity in the nonprofit, corporate, and higher education sectors, including one enrolled in medical school and one on staff at Teach For America. 

In keeping with our mission, our DACA teachers work in shortage-area subjects and hard-to-staff schools. Vanessa teaches social studies in a high-poverty New York City school. Priscilla teaches science just 10 minutes from the border of Mexico. Many of our DACA teachers are bilingual like Alexis, or they bring Ivy League educations to the classroom like Jose. And like Gianella and Jaime they all serve as role models and navigators for students who face the intersecting challenges of poverty and undocumented status.

Yet these incredible leaders with DACA status face a serious risk. The White House has signaled it may rescind DACA and stop approving or renewing DACA applications. Our DACA teachers and leaders would lose their ability to work and would be at risk of deportation—a far cry from the pathway to citizenship these individuals deserve. Such a move would have far-reaching impacts on our students and communities.

The Pew Research Center estimates almost 7 percent of K-12 students are undocumented or have one undocumented parent at home. That’s an average of two kids per classroom. If DACA is rescinded without a solution in place, these students would lose the chance to connect with teachers who mirror their life experiences and the legal pathway to driver’s licenses, jobs, and higher education. They could be separated from their families or deported to countries they’ve never known as home.

Our nearly 150 corps members, alumni and staff with DACA status are just a small segment of the 700,000 DACA recipients employed across the country today. All told, the Center for American Progress estimates that ending the employment of these taxpayers, who own cars and homes and contribute to all sectors of the economy, would reduce the nation’s GDP by $433.4 billion over a decade.

Teach For America is proud of the impact our DACA leaders have made on our corps, communities, and country. We will continue to provide them legal assistance and classroom resources during this time of uncertainty, as we fiercely advocate for lawmakers to reintroduce and move forward with the DREAM Act.

We see every day that our corps members, alumni, and staff with DACA status are role models who create safe and welcoming classrooms for all of our students and contribute to the economy. They deserve a pathway to citizenship. We ask Congress and the White House to recognize their contributions and find a permanent solution that will allow them to fulfill their American dreams.

Still have questions or want to share your DACA story?

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