Teachers Advocate for Removal of Barriers and Fear for Undocumented Students

Dominguez with students in her classroom. (Photo courtesy Alice Dominguez)

Dominguez with students in her classroom. (Photo courtesy Alice Dominguez)

Two words dominated the conversation at ED’s Tea with Teachers last week on the topic of supporting undocumented students: fear and hope. Educators balanced their concerns for their undocumented and mixed-status students, while acknowledging the hope that they ultimately deserve. During the tea, I couldn’t help but think of the student from my school district, who was sitting in a jail cell rather than a classroom, feeling those same emotions.

Wildin David Guillen Acosta was taken from his front yard on his way to his Durham, N.C., school in January, while his mother watched helplessly from their home. He would later join nine other students from North Carolina and Georgia whose parents and classmates also witnessed their arrests from bus stops, homes, and neighborhoods. While The Department of Homeland Security has designated schools with sanctuary status, teachers across the Southeast are arguing that ICE raids are threatening our students’ daily lives as their justifiable anxieties are occupying what could otherwise be devoted to their academic pursuits.

Teachers nodded in unison as we heard testimonials of students and family members who were taken from us by ICE or who suffer from PTSD from the threats that ICE raids pose. We questioned how we can engage our biggest allies, our students’ families, when schools serve as an intimidating environment. As César Moreno Pérez of the American Federation of Teachers stated at the tea, ICE raids are, “eroding the hope that educators worked so hard to build” in immigrant communities across our nation.

The threat of deportations is just the beginning of an undocumented student’s concerns. Teachers shared frustration with the barriers that are created as a result of misinformation, particularly post-secondary financial barriers. Secretary King acknowledged that some states are more committed to supporting our undocumented students’ collegiate goals, and this is certainly the case for me, as I noted that my former students in Colorado attend college with in-state tuition, while my current students in North Carolina have found limited options when searching for scholarships and financial aid.

Most notably, it is not just students who are vulnerable to the instability of our complex immigration system. A teacher with DACA status spoke of the important role that DACA qualifying teachers can play in inspiring students, yet this important role remains unstable as we wait for the results of the most recent Supreme Court case and next election. Since DACA is an executive order, the next President could remove it, making this teacher and others like her ineligible to do exactly what they feel called to do — show their own undocumented students that their dream career is within reach.

I left this tea once again with Wildin on my mind and an inbox full of resources from other teachers. It’s always inspiring to meet teacher leaders from across the country, and in this case, I feel more supported knowing they’re committed to empowering our students in the face of the barriers imposed on them.

Alice Dominguez is an English teacher at J.D. Clement Early College High School in Durham, North Carolina, and a founding member of a recently developed caucus to support undocumented students within the Durham Association of Educators. She previously taught in Las Vegas and Denver.


  1. Why does America, the American people and the LEGAL IMMIGRANTS have to take the blame for the problems Illegal immigrants and their kids create?
    The illegal immigrants come here/stay here in violation of our laws. Seventy two percent of them are using Tax Payers supported social support programs. Many are taking jobs while we have over 30 million Americans in need of work. And, we keep hearing about how we are mistreating the illegal immigrants.
    The parents come here illegally, they often bring their kids with them or while waiting for final deportation decisions they have a kid here that becomes a U.S. citizen then complain that the U.S. is breaking up families. Deportation should include ALL the kids under the age of 18; it should be the parents decision to take them or leave them; not our problem. They can assign the kids to LEGAL Immigrants still in the U.S. until they turn 18 at which time the kids can become legally responsible for themselves; stay here or go to where ever their parents are. All other members of the family who are illegally here should just be deported or on their own, leave the country and come back legally. . The illegals created their status – why do they blame the U.S. for their problems? Is it because they feel the U.S. should just change every law they disagree with? They will not comply with our laws now – why would we think they would comply with the laws if we changed them?
    The family problems of the immigrants are their problems; this country does not take responsibility for the actions of parents; if we are caught violating laws we are punished; that often means jail time or prison time separating our kids from family members! We know it, we accept it; why should illegal immigrants be any different? They brought their kids here, the parents have created the hardships on their kids, the parents need to take responsibility for their actions and stop blaming others for their problems and the problems they cause for their kids. Go back to where they came from and do as millions of immigrants the U.S. allows legally into this country every year. Comply with our laws in getting here so you don’t have to complain and about them while you are here, will not have to fear being deported because you refuse to obey our laws. Do the right thing for the kids and the family!

  2. This article makes it look like most teachers are in favor of keeping their kids in the classroom so that they can learn, which we are. Our immigration system is ineffective and outdated. Our current laws are based on court cases from the 1800s. Most, if not all, of the undocumented kids in our educational system are here through no fault of their own. It was based on their parents choice to emigrate. The few who emigrated on their own came here to escape desperate circumstances. If you can’t sympathize with that then I guess that makes you inhuman, not them. I don’t know a single teacher, myself included, who would ever want to see one of their students deported. Contrary to popular belief, we value our profession and our students and we care deeply about them. A piece of paper does not determine who I allow myself to love and who I don’t. I love all of my students equally, even the drug dealers, the undocumented students and the ones who struggle with mental illness. Everyone deserves an education, that’s one of the core beliefs that this country was founded on and if you can’t get behind that then I dunno, maybe you should move to Mexico.

    • The mental illness that has plagued our school systems is lack of teaching of personal responsibility within our society, which at one time was taught in civics. It is called “Obeying and Respecting The Law”.

      Of course most if not all news articles leave out the most important fact of why he was being deported in the first place and it was not because he came here illegally. It was because he skipped his court hearing in March of last year after he was detained at the border. The judge issued the deportation order after he failed to appear. It probably took ICE this long to get to him among the countless others they must pursue and locate.

      Minors are not turned away and are allowed to stay in the country with family members until they have a hearing before an immigration judge.

      If educators truly want to educate their students, then start educating them instead of feeding worthless propaganda.

  3. Grateful that education advocates like Mrs. Dominguez exist! She’s upholding what teachers should truly strive to do – ensure that all students are safe and can learn in a supportive environment. Thank you for taking the time to serve on a committee and write about the misuse of ICE programs.

  4. Thank you Secretary King, for your diligence. Is there any hope of loan discharge for many of us to have credit files cleared of fraud ulent loans?

  5. What “fear?” They should not be here. Are we a nation of laws or not? Is it DOE position that the USA–alone among nation states–must let foreign nationals decide who should enter and remain in our country?

  6. This article makes it look like most teachers are in favor of not enforcing immigration law. I don’t think that is true. It reeks of propaganda.

  7. I don’t sit around all day worrying if I’m going to be arrested for being an arsonist. It’s a simple reason why…I don’t commit arson.

    Easy way not to worry about ICE deportations…don’t sneak into America.

    There are consequences for breaking the law and worrying seems like a rather light consequence.

  8. Nice writeup though, I would want to say, the blog is great, same with the write, please keep it up!

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