DACA Decision Puts DREAMers Back in Limbo

Today, the White House and Justice Department potentially closed a door on some of the United States’ most vital and courageous individuals. As educators, this is not an issue we can ignore.
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AP Images/Alan Diaz

Over the weekend, anxious whispers became all-but-confirmed facts, signaling the intentions of the White House and Justice Department to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions confirmed the news.

In short, the decision portends the termination of DACA, a program that protects DREAMers from deportation by offering renewable two-year work permits. DREAMers are young, undocumented immigrants who entered the nation as children prior to midyear 2007.

DREAMers contribute a diverse array of threads in the fabric of U.S. society. They are students and workers, breadwinners and homeowners, community leaders and members of the military who have been forced to prove their worthiness of continued existence and pursuance of the so-called American Dream. Many of them have no living memory of the countries in which they were born, much less the means to return there and thrive.  

Approximately 800,000 young people—including not only thousands of students but also thousands of your fellow educators—have been granted these legal protections. Each one paid a stiff application fee, underwent a background check and submitted several identifying documents. Now, these known, registered and vulnerable members of society face an uncertain future, and no new DREAMers can apply.

This uncertainty places an undue, added burden on children of immigrant families. They will fear for their guardians’ safety. And they will face the added pressures of potential impermanence.

According to Sessions’ announcement, DACA will terminate in six months, on March 5, 2018. Without congressional action and a DACA replacement, protections will give way as two-year permits expire. DREAMers’ confidence in Congress is likely low, as the Senate’s failure to pass the DREAM Act originally inspired the executive order that gave way to DACA.

There’s still a great deal that DREAMers don’t know about what termination of the program will look like. They and their families must now face the countdown to March wondering if they are especially vulnerable to deportation, their application documents serving as a scarlet letter for increasingly aggressive Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

This means children of immigrant families may see their day-to-day lives change outside the classroom. Families fearing ICE may seek to relocate. Families planning ahead may have to outwardly discuss arrangements for living in foreign countries they know little about. Students will enter your school with life-altering possibilities weighing on their minds.

Their fates rely on community leaders, from Congress to the classroom. Here’s what you can do even as uncertainty looms.

Take action, individually and collectively. There is bipartisan support in Congress to replace DACA, but a busy fall session in the House and Senate, as well as a tendency toward deadlock in D.C., threaten to leave DREAMers in limbo as the deadline looms. As community leaders, educators can help compel Congress to take action. Provide testimonials. Sign petitions. Call or write your representatives. Your perspective is unique, personal and powerful. Your vocal support also signals to students that you will stand with and advocate for them.

Empower your students to act. Tell complex stories about immigration in your classroom, and insert humanity alongside the rhetoric surrounding DACA by educating your students about who DREAMers are and the many places and perspectives they represent. Help students to organize demonstrations of solidarity with their fellow students.

Support DREAMers or children of DREAMers. Understand these students face anxiety few of us can truly imagine. While it remains unclear how (or when) this decision will directly affect DREAMers, this uncertainty induces fear. Wondering if you will have a stable home in the months to come is a huge burden to bear, especially atop the responsibilities of a student. Give your students space to feel comfortable talking about these fears, and be ready to answer their questions as best you can. And keep in mind that approximately 20,000 teachers currently working in the United States are also enrolled in DACA, so this announcement could potentially impact your colleagues’ lives as well.

Strive for safety in the classroom. With the DACA decision in the news, some students may not understand whom it targets or may regurgitate talking points that do not belong in a civil classroom environment. Speak up and set the record straight if and when you hear misinformation or biased remarks. Reflect immigrant experiences in your classroom curriculum and wall art, and take steps to make sure all of your students feel valued, empowered and welcome.

Provide a safe space for families. Reassure families facing uncertainty over DACA that your classroom or school will not put them at further risk of deportation should the program expire. Learn how to advocate and know your rights as an educator to protect immigrant students and families.

Educate students about their rights and opportunities. Listening to your students’ founded fears is important. So, too, is providing answers and avenues toward success and self-advocacy. Connect students with information about their rights in dealing with law enforcement or ICE agents. Provide tools students can share with their families, and empower them to seek the best outcome.

And here is what you must do.

Show students, colleagues and DREAMers you stand with them. Complacency and trust in the process without action sends not only the wrong message to vulnerable students but also sends a message of carelessness to community leaders and representatives tasked with filling the void left behind by today’s announcement.

Instead, within and beyond the classroom, illustrate your compassion with action. Speak up in your classroom and school community. Support these students publicly. Students facing the prospect of deportation will understandably lose trust in institutions. Earn their trust by showing your willingness to fight for their rights, protect their privacy and provide them opportunities to belong and move ahead in their community.

Today, the White House and Justice Department potentially closed a door on some of the United States’ most vital and courageous individuals.

Open yours.

Additional resources   

Collins is a staff writer for Teaching Tolerance.

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