by Colleen Flaherty
Montserrat Garibay is a National Board certified pre-K teacher and vice president of Education Austin. In 1993, Garibay was a middle school student who spoke no English. Her mother had just escaped an abusive spouse to bring her children to America.
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Now, alongside Texas educators, community organizations and volunteers, she helps aspiring American students once like her.
“When I came to this country 20 years ago as an undocumented student, I had teachers that really believed in me. I’m forever grateful,” said Garibay.
In order to help aspiring American students and their families, Garibay—alongside several local community organizations—hosts clinics around Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA). The immigration policy helps DREAMer-eligible students and their families with temporary relief from deportation proceedings, as well as apply for renewable work permits.
First, they reached out to the community and held educational forums to help students and families with their specific immigration questions.
“We started having those at high schools because families really needed the information, and we wanted to make sure it was accurate.”
Thanks to grants from the Minority Community Outreach and Partnerships at NEA, they were able to hold DACA clinics to inform and assist with applications for the deferred action.
“The clinics involved students coming and filling out applications. We had a pro-bono lawyer who would review the forms and sent out to get their deferred action.”
Many of the volunteers who worked at the clinics were local educators, many of them who were DREAMers themselves with DACA permits.
“They got very involved because they can relate to the community in the district. They want to help people have the same opportunity to work that they did.”
One of those educators is Daniela Galvan, a third grade teacher in Austin. She was afraid she would never achieve her dream of becoming a teacher due to her status. Fortunately, she graduated from the University of Texas and found work in her home city.
Garibay, who has known her since Galvan was in high school, reached out and asked her involved with the DACA clinics. She was immediately on board to help young people and families who just wanted to work and learn.
“To see her so involved and teaching has been on of my greatest joys,” said Garibay. “By doing more social justice work, educators can really connect with the community they live and work in.”
Since the beginning of this year, and more than 300 people have been helped with information and filling out applications around deferred action. One student in particular stands out her mind. He received a scholarship to have the costs of applying covered so he could work and attend his local community college.
“The day he got his permit, he sent me a really touching letter saying it had changed his life because now he could see himself growing and working in something he really loved,” said Garibay.
“These clinics are very important because they give students hope. They give them the opportunity to really pursue their dreams.”
While there is so much more to be done, Garibay said that much of the recent commonsense immigration reform has been encouraging.
“With DACA expansion, I’m very hopeful. It’s not going to help every parent and every family, but it’s very needed. I think working with the families and seeing how scared they are, Obama’s speech about the expansion gave me hope.
“At the same time, there were a lot of families who couldn’t apply for deferred action. It’s a step in the right direction, but living in Texas, it’s actually pretty scary. There’s a lot of legislation, like no in-state tuition for undocumented students. Having republican governor, it’s going to be a very tough battle.
“It’s never easy. The fight is ongoing. It’s scary, but I’m very hopeful.”