“Don’t deport our students’ dreams” say college educators as they go to battle for undocumented students

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By Sabrina Holcomb

Educators are sounding the alarm that students have become actual targets and collateral damage in the Trump administration’s assault on immigrants. The president’s speech to Congress, where he talked about immigrants mainly through the lens of the criminal justice system, and the shocking arrest and detention of DACA students in different states, send a chilling message.

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The current crisis has sent Loan Dao, a professor of Asian American studies at UMass Boston, into emergency preparedness mode. Dao, who came to the U.S. with her family as refugees from the Vietnam War, leads the Immigrant Student Task Force, a campus advocacy program run by teacher volunteers and serving a diverse group of DACA college students. She recently spoke with NEA Edjustice about the new urgency of her work.

How are ramped-up rhetoric and escalating ICE raids affecting your students?

If you met these kids, you would assume, and they would say, “We’re from here.” They’re childhood arrivals—culturally they see themselves as Americans. Many come from mixed status families and communities who have been in the U.S. for many years. So imagine how this is messing with their heads. Knowing their community is targeted is traumatizing, making it extremely difficult to focus on their studies. The rhetoric has such racial underpinnings that many students of color feel particularly vulnerable as potential targets of state violence and random acts of violence by individuals.

You work with DREAMers, students who are held up as models for other undocumented youth. According to the Department of Homeland Security, these students don’t have anything to fear, right?

There are several cases around the country now of DACA students being detained. A youth activist, Daniela Vargas, who was in the process of renewing her status, was seized after she spoke out at a news conference. This sends an added message repressing activism to any student who is thinking of speaking out.

Loan Dao

But when people hear about DACA students in college they think, ‘well, they have it made. They’re on their way.’

Even in college, DACA students have to fight depression and a perpetual sense of hopelessness about their future. They’re ineligible for federal aid, and rarely eligible for state aid, so they have to pay the entirety of their tuition and fees out of pocket. Some can only afford to take one, maybe two, classes a semester. There have been students who have taken 10 years to finish their degree. They’re also unsure how prospective employers might view their temporary status. Yet, I’ve witnessed the tremendous resilience and courage of students to overcome fears and obstacles and stand up for their rights and the rights of others.

How is the Task Force responding?

We’re asking the university, unions, and legal organizations for emergency hotlines and legal counsel and support for undocumented students and workers on campus. We’re organizing events and Know Your Rights trainings and requesting additional training for university staff and administrators. We’re encouraging faculty, staff, and students to create an inclusive campus environment to assure immigrant students they’re in a safe place. We’re also helping to recruit and retain students by raising scholarship funds and researching financial aid options.

What’s your advice to K-16 schools and educators on supporting undocumented students during the current crisis?

Build trust and relationships first and foremost. Students have consistently said the most important factors that kept them in school were a sense of support, belonging and acceptance, and community. Take these steps:

  • Put “emergency preparedness” responses in place for students and staff to ensure they have a hotline, legal counsel, and a campus representative advocating on their behalf and communicating with their loved ones if they’re detained.
  • Publicly demand an inclusive and safe environment for students who may not feel they can speak out.
  • Train guidance counselors and administrators to support undocumented students and those in mixed-status families.
  • Work with your local, state, and national representatives to advocate for protection of targeted communities and the separation between law enforcement and immigration enforcement.
  • Discuss college options and affordability with students and their families, and bring former or current undocumented college students to talk to them.
  • Openly talk with students about how their status and the current climate impact their motivation, hopefulness for the future, and academics.

What keeps you and your students going?

Our awareness, engagement, and alliances are more intense now. We’re heartened to hear people say “we support you,” “we feel this nation is better for the contributions of immigrants and refugees.” That open love and support gives undocumented students the emotional security they need to make it through this and come out stronger.

Reader Comments

  1. What do you think?

    I believe that a reform is due. Immigrants do come here illegally, but are required pay a penalty fee for doing so. This is comparable to when a citizen breaks the law by driving over the speed limit. The current laws require an individual to wait years, perhaps decades, and pay several thousand dollars to legally immigrate to this country. This is not attainable for the majority of honest, hardworking individuals that wish to live and work in this country for a better life. This country has been built and raised up by immigrants. We should promote continued growth and national strength by reforming immigration laws to allow achievable pathways for immigrant to live and work in this country.

    Reasonable requirements that define attainable goals can be developed and would need to be followed for an individual to acquire legal documentation to stay and work in the United States. If an individual does not meet the requirements, then he or she does not qualify to stay in the US. A migrant program can be developed where people can come and work in the fields for a season, then go back to their countries. This will eliminate the need for entire families migrate together and provide the opportunity for immigrants to come and make some money to help their family needs. Let’s develop something that will benefit everyone involved. Let’s not just think black or white.

  2. I believe that a reform is due. Immigrants do come here illegally, but are required pay a penalty fee for doing so. This is comparable to when a citizen breaks the law by driving over the speed limit. The current laws require an individual to wait years, perhaps decades, and pay several thousand dollars to legally immigrate to this country. This is not attainable for the majority of honest, hardworking individuals that wish to live and work in this country for a better life. This country has been built and raised up by immigrants. We should promote continued growth and national strength by reforming immigration laws to allow achievable pathways for immigrant to live and work in this country.

    Reasonable requirements that define attainable goals can be developed and would need to be followed for an individual to acquire legal documentation to stay and work in the United States. If an individual does not meet the requirements, then he or she does not qualify to stay in the US. A migrant program can be developed where people can come and work in the fields for a season, then go back to their countries. This will eliminate the need for entire families migrate together and provide the opportunity for immigrants to come and make some money to help their family needs. Let’s develop something that will benefit everyone involved. Let’s not just think black or white.

  3. Jesus did not discriminate against, legal or illegal. Why do todays Christians do that ? I am not proud of what the US Government is doing!

    1. Because we are a nation of laws which govern our society. If an individual is living in the USA illegally, then it is that individual’s choice to violate the law which should result in criminal sanctions. Your causation analysis is backwards. The individual illegal resident is causing discord in his or her own life by making the choice to violate the law or the illegal resident’s parent or parents made the choice to bring a child into our country illegally, it is not the US government. Choices. Jesus did teach us about choices, consequences, and personal responsibility.

    2. Jesus also said to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. As a Christian, I am to obey the laws in place as long as they don’t conflict with Biblical laws. Immigration laws are in place to protect society. I have taught students who are immigrants….and they did it legally. They followed the laws and did what they are supposed to do. I welcome them wholeheartedly. I do not welcome illegal immigrants any more than I welcome burglars into my house. They are taking our economic resources and bringing diseases with them (leprosy, tuberculosis, hepatitis, etc). There is a big difference between legal aliens and illegal aliens. The government is working to protect our borders and its citizens. The legal right of self defense for citizens and for a country is a Biblical concept. As a Christian, I will love others in the name of Jesus. But Jesus and the Apostle Paul (Romans 10) would tell me to obey those placed in authority over me.

  4. Might want to consider that illegal aliens are lawbreakers. Does not exactly seem like a good example for students to support the idea that breaking laws of this nation is a good thing to do. Unfortunate that schools to not have enough money to support those who are here legally but teachers are willing to educate those who are here illegally. How does that make sense?

    Out of curiosity, how many more illegal aliens should we let into our country? Or just let anyone who wants to come here….just let ’em all in?

      1. No, you would be a traffic offender. Also, attempting to compare a speeding violation to illegally entering and living in our country is absurd.

    1. That was not a women’s march. That was a March against the president. It was a destructive and disgraceful march.

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