by Félix Pérez
Kari Johnson, an elementary school teacher in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, was at home when her husband told her that President Obama announced he was taking executive action that would help bring a halt to the separation of children and families.
Take Action ›
Don’t miss out on the kind of education, legislative and political news you can only get with EdVotes. Click here ›
“I literally jumped when I heard the news,” said the typically reserved Midwesterner. “I’m so glad President Obama spoke with the nation, because our immigration system is broken. Educators have been working for a long time on this issue on behalf of our students.”
Johnson knows of what she speaks. In April of last year, she, along with more than 50,000 educators, students, clergy, elected officials and activists attended a historic rally on the steps of the nation’s Capitol to tell Congress to pass commonsense immigration reform for students, their families and millions of aspiring Americans. She was also invited to share her story and that of her students on a tele-town hall with 5,000 other educators.
“As a teacher, my priority is to make my students feel safe and welcome. Unfortunately, some of my students have this constant worry of learning they lost a parent when they get home,” said Johnson. “I feel so happy that the president’s announcement will help my students and their families.”
Yesterday, President Obama carried his immigration reform message to Las Vegas, speaking at a high school with a large Latino student population. He was introduced by 26-year-old Astrid Silva, whose story he shared from the White House Thursday night.
“Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old. Her only possessions were a cross, her doll, and the frilly dress she had on. When she started school, she didn’t speak any English. She caught up to other kids by reading newspapers and watching PBS, and she became a good student. . . And today, Astrid Silva is a college student working on her third degree.”
The president’s account of Silva’s journey was especially meaningful for Angie Sullivan, a Las Vegas elementary school teacher to whom Silva turned for help years ago.
“President Obama told Astrid’s story to the nation. Immigration reform is about keeping our families together, about working hard and achieving our dreams,” said Sullivan. “I want all my students to have opportunity and to not be scared that someone they love will go missing.”
President Obama’s executive action not only expands the number of students who can apply for deferred deportation, but it extends the deferral to many of their parents.
“Millions of our students and their families are being given a chance to come out of the shadows of society and the fear of deportation,” said Utah teacher Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association.
Gladys Marquez, a high school teacher in Blue Island, Illinois, recounted how a former student, as a result of President Obama’s executive action, will now be able to see her mother for the first time in three years. “I’m beyond thrilled. I have students who are at the top of their class who will now be able to aspire without fear. It’s a glimmer of hope, a jump start for students and families that will give them peace of mind.”
Marquez, Eskelsen García and Sullivan agree President Obama’s executive action represents a big step toward creating a “more fair and more just” immigration system, but they said students and their families need permanent reform.
“It can’t be just up to President Obama. Congress needs to get its act together and work for a solution that fixes our broken immigration system once and for all. It’s a national problem that affects all of us,” said Johnson.
Eskelsen García said President Obama’s executive action is “a temporary fix. Congress has a lot of work to do. We need comprehensive legislation for all our students and their families.”