By Félix Pérez
Speaking on the marble steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, Karina Alvarez bore down against the on-again, off-again snow and rain on a raw November morning. It was as if the San Antonio, Texas, elementary school teacher, using a firm and measured delivery, wanted the nine justices hearing arguments inside the court to hear her every word.
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Her goal: Put a face on the students and families in her community whose fate hinges on the decision the court will render on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that temporarily shields hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation and provides them a work permit. The DACA recipients are required to have come to the United States when they were children, and for many, this country is the only one they’ve ever known.
Alvarez, a second-grade teacher, has students whose families are at risk. But the fear hits especially close to home as well; Alvarez is a DACA recipient, one of nearly 9,000 of who work in education, training and library occupations.
There are 690,000 DACA recipients. More than 261,000 are enrolled in school.
“I knew that as an undocumented person working because of DACA, as a teacher, even I am at risk.”– Karina Alvarez
Elementary school teacher
San Antonio, TX
“I knew that as an undocumented person working because of DACA, as a teacher, even I am at risk,” said Alvarez.
Alvarez recounted an encounter with one of her students shortly after President Trump rescinded DACA in September 2017. “Will I have to go back to Mexico because the leader of this country doesn’t like Mexicans?” asked the student. “It was then that I knew that I had to do something. Although I was scared because I, too, am undocumented, … I needed to be strong for my students, their families, my family, my parents and my own son.”
The court has until the end of June 2020 to issue a ruling. Meanwhile, people like Vicente Rodríguez are left to decide whether they should apply to renew their DACA status. Rodríguez, a teaching assistant and DACA recipient from San Bernardino, California, is scheduled to start a masters’ program in education in the fall of 2020.
For Rodríguez, who was a speaker at the Supreme Court rally, his advocacy is rooted in helping undocumented students. “I’ve made it my life’s mission that students would never, ever experience such hardship [as mine] in the pursuit of education.”
He continued, “DACA provided me the courage to come out of the shadows. With DACA I was able to complete my undergraduate studies. With DACA I was able to put my foot in the door of the K-12 educational field. With DACA I was able to pay taxes and give back to my community,” said Rodríguez, who took nine years to complete his associate’s degree because of his undocumented status. “We are undocumented Americans who love this country because it is the only one we have known.”
“DACA provided me the courage to come out of the shadows.”– Vicente Rodríguez
San Bernadino, CA
The value of DACA to students, educators and schools is widely acknowledged in the K-12 and higher education community. The National Education Association and the PTA, in an amicus brief they filed with the Supreme Court, wrote: “Since its inception in 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program has yielded immeasurable benefits for our nation’s students and educators. For young people who, prior to DACA, had only a limited pathway to college and almost no realistic expectation of long-term employment, the program created new hope and a reason to strive for academic excellence.”
They added, “Since DACA began over seven years ago, many DACA recipients, in reliance on the program, have completed high school, entered four-year colleges and universities, and graduated to embark on careers in public service. And school districts, also relying on DACA, have hired thousands of DACA recipients. DACA recipients have helped alleviate the nationwide shortage of qualified educators, particularly in high needs schools and communities, and they serve as role models for the next generation of increasingly diverse students.”