by Devon Westray
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Immigration is sure to be a topic of discussion during the first Republican presidential debate, which takes place next week. With that in mind, we wanted to find out what immigration activists want to hear from the candidates.
Earlier this month, the White House invited several educators to participate in an event related to the DACA program. DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—a program that allows certain undocumented individuals, who came to the U.S. as children, to receive temporary relief from removal and apply for work authorization here in America.
Both Jaime Ballesteros, a high school chemistry teacher in Los Angeles, and Maria Dominguez, a bilingual teacher from Austin, Texas, have benefited from DACA and are now “DACAmented” educators in our public schools. They recently attended a White House event (see video below) designed to show off the achievements of DACA participants and honor them as “Champions of Change.”
Education Votes recently caught up with the two and asked them about immigration, presidential politics, and the upcoming debate.
EV: Why is the presidential election important to the future of students using DACA?
JB: The presidential election is very important to those who have DACA because it could mean the continuation/expansion of DACA or the complete end to the DACA program. So when I speak to other documented teachers, there is a lot of anxiety that comes with the upcoming presidential election. It could either mean that DACA could be expanded and there could be more pathways to legalization within the DACA program, or it could also mean that our work permits won’t mean anything after this presidential election because the program would be discontinued.
MD: You know it’s very important because basically, it’s hard to say it, but they (politicians) kind of hold our future. Whoever becomes president is going have the power to remove DACA or continue it and maybe give us another opportunity to become residents and, maybe later on, citizens. It’s going to depend on who wins the election. We’re going to be directly affected by the election because I know, as of right now, there are a lot of politicians that are running for the presidency that are looking for ways to stop us from achieving the American dream. And even though we are already documented that doesn’t mean we’re going to keep it after the election. It’s very unfortunate that we’re kind of hanging and we don’t know what’s going to happen to us after the next president is elected.
EV: Why should the presidential candidates address the need to create a path to citizenship for the young people using DACA?
JB: Speaking personally, I’m a documented teacher, but often times I feel that I have to plan my life in 2 year increments because I have to keep renewing my DACA every 2 years. So I feel that it’s unfair for those who are documented to have to do that when we have a lot dreams, a lot of goals, and we really just want to contribute to this country. Additionally I feel there needs to be a path to citizenship for those who have DACA status because most of us have grown up in this country and were brought to this country at such a young age. For us, this is our home and we want to be recognized by our home, because this is where we want to live and this is where we want to make our dreams come true.
MD: I have a couple friends who graduated from high school with me and they were undocumented. They came here when they were young, and they had to go back to Mexico because that was their only opportunity to go to college and be able to pay tuition. Now they’re very successful. One is a doctor and the other one has a degree in public affairs. And I just think of them when I think of all these problems we face with immigration. What’s going to happen to us if we don’t get that path of citizenship? Are we going to have to go back to our countries of origin and give back to our own country or should we give back to the country where we’ve lived most our lives, where we’ve grown, where we’ve been educated, and where most of our families are? This is the only place we know so why not give us a chance to show that we have high potential, that we aren’t what some politicians are saying about us, and that we’re not criminals? They should hear the true stories about what’s really going on in our community. They should come out and see what’s going on so they too can see what the real truth about undocumented immigrants is.
EV: What message would you like to tell the presidential candidates about why it’s important that DACA students be a full part of this country and have the opportunity to succeed?
JB: I feel that as an educator we invested a lot of money in our undocumented students by putting them through our public school system and it would be a missed opportunity to just let these undocumented students graduate high school and have their degrees mean nothing. The DACA program allows undocumented students to pursue their dreams, be a part of this country, and have their education mean something by being able to work. That’s why the DACA program is very important.
MD: I would like to tell them that when they’re making decisions about immigration, especially about undocumented students, decisions that are going to affect millions of undocumented people, they should forget about what political party they belong to and consider the lives they’re about to affect. Undocumented students didn’t have to come to this country. We were brought here by our parents, and it’s unfair that we’re being affected by decisions from people who don’t understand and don’t know our true story.