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Education

Teachers Head to Washington to Try to Protect Dreamers

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ASHTON MARRA
/
STATE IMPACT OHIO

Teachers’ groups across the country say DACA -- the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program— and its legislative future, are an education issue.

State Impact Ohio’s Ashton Marra reports that teachers’ unions and education organizations will gather on Capitol Hill this week to push lawmakers to take action before time runs out for undocumented students and teachers in classrooms across the country.

Tiana Gilbert is a 25-year-old English language arts teacher at c on Cincinnati’s west side.

On a Wednesday afternoon, she walks her eighth-grade students through an exercise identifying irony in their latest reading, a typical day in her classroom, she says. But since early September, Gilbert says there are more and more atypical days, days when the questions she’s asked are difficult to answer.

Questions like: “Am I going to get deported? Am I going to be sent back? What do I do if immigration comes to my house? What if they come to Roberts?”

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Credit ASHTON MARRA / STATE IMPACT OHIO
Teach for America teacher Tiana Gilbert at Roberts Academy in Cincinnati.

The questions are common, Gilbert says, in a school where two-thirds of the students are hispanic -- a large number of whom are either the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves.

Gilbert started teaching at Roberts two years ago through Teach for America, a national program that places recent college graduates in schools with a large number of low-income students. This summer as a mentor for new  members, Gilbert attended an organization-wide training that helped prepare her for those difficult questions.

“In that training," she says, "I just had faces coming up in my head of my students. Everything our trainer was talking about, I had a story for a student that followed that line or was part of that statistic.”

Teach For America Advocates for Dreamers
Led by educators who are themselves DACA recipients, Teach For America's training course provides access to relevant state and federal immigration laws, resources for students, and tips on how to make classrooms feel welcoming and safe.

'I believe that as educators we need to do everything possible to see that they have the same access to opportunities that all students do.'

Viridiana Carrizales, managing director for DACA at Teach for America says its mission to provide a quality, equitable education to every student, no matter their immigration status.

“Our teachers are experiencing firsthand the trauma that the students have, the challenges that the students are encountering every day in K-12. So the voices of educators right now are crucial,” says Carrizales.

That’s why Carrizales says Teach for America is joining other teachers’ groups in a national education and advocacy week, urging lawmakers to pass the DREAM Act.

DREAM Act Stalls in Congress
Introduced in several forms since 2001, the bill would essentially make DACA law -- instead of subject to changes in executive orders. It would grant a reprieve from deportation for registered immigrants who were brought to the country illegally at a young age. Supporters of the legislation refer to those young people as Dreamers.

“These Dreamers are our students and I believe that as educators we need to do everything possible to see that they have the same access to opportunities that all students do,” says Becky Higgins, president of the Ohio Education Association.

She says the immigration debate affects hundreds if not thousands of Ohio students.

Ohio’s congressional delegation isn't necessarily opposed to the DREAM Act. Both Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman have said they’d support the bill, though they sit on opposite sides of the aisle.

Republican Portman says, “We ought to resolve this situation and do it legislatively. I don’t mind the fact that it’s been thrown to Congress because I do think that it was not Constitutional to do it through an executive action.”

Portman says President Obama’s 2012 executive action forming DACA was unconstitutional.  He says, creating such a program—one that protects undocumented people of a certain age, who entered the country by a certain date—needs Congressional approval. 

The DACA Waiting Game
In September, President Trump announced he would end DACA in six months and tasked Congress with resolving the issue legislatively. Until then, no new people who would qualify for DACA are allowed to sign up.

Trump's order has been challenged in court . But today, an appeals court in New York put the brakes on those challenges. Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly told conservatives today that a deal on Dreamers will likely be part of a year-end spending bill. 

The Migration Policy Institute says nearly 2 million people in the U.S. are eligible for DACA status. One in five are children under the age of 15.

English teacher Tiana Gilbert says she teaches her students how to advocate, how to use their voices to share a simple message.

“They belong here. They deserve to be here. They should be here.”

And Gilbert’s peers are taking that message to Washington on their behalf.