Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced it would end an Obama-era immigration program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
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The initiative temporarily shields immigrants, who were brought to the U.S. as children and are living in the country without legal permission, from deportation. DACA recipients are also eligible for work permits and driver’s licenses. Nearly 790,000 people benefit from the program, according to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services.
Some of those people are teachers.
A nonprofit called Teach for America drafts college graduates to teach for at least two years in low-income schools in different regions of the U.S. TFA’s managing director Viridiana Carrizales says the organization started recruiting DACA recipients in 2013, shortly after President Barack Obama implemented it.
“DACA presented an opportunity for us to bring talented people who can come into classrooms; people that could serve as role models for our students, especially for our students who are undocumented,” Carrizales says. “We felt that by having teachers who are able to connect with our students in a more direct way … was something that we knew could have a tremendous impact.”
Yehimi Cambron was one of the first so-called “DACAmented teachers” TFA accepted in Atlanta. She grew up here and graduated from high school in 2010. She got a full scholarship to Agnes Scott College. Cambron applied for — and received — DACA while in college. Afterwards, she joined TFA.
“I was teaching fifth grade, all subjects at a bilingual school my first year,” Cambron says. “Then second year, at the same school, I was teaching first-grade and third-grade reading and math.”
During those two years, Cambron became a certified teacher. She is licensed to teach elementary school and art.
Cambron is now an art teacher at the Atlanta-area high school she attended. Several of her students are undocumented. She is worried about how the end of DACA may affect her, but she’s more concerned about the impact it could have on her kids.
“For me as a teacher, it’s more looking at: How we can mobilize here at my school? How I can help facilitate professional development for staff on supporting undocumented students? And how can I provide resources for my students so they feel like this is a safe space?” she says.
The issue is also personal for Carrizales.
“I was an undocumented student for more than 14 years before I had the opportunity to adjust my status,” she says.
Both women are cautiously optimistic about a solution.
President Donald Trump plans to start phasing out DACA protections in six months. He said he’ll revisit the issue if Congress doesn’t pass immigration reform by then. In June, 11 attorneys general threatened legal action if the Justice Department didn’t end the program. A letter penned by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the program “unlawful.”
However, Carrizales and Cambron say immigrant communities are resilient.
“I’m very optimistic about the ability of undocumented people and immigrants and just my community in general to mobilize and push for something that’s more permanent and more inclusive,” Cambron says.
Carrizales agrees that change could occur from the ground up.
“This is not a community that we should feel pity for, but it’s a community that we should recognize for its strength and the things that they’ve been able to do to keep fighting to do their best in this country,” she says.