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.