A stroke of the pen at the White House could put more than 700,000 current students, recent graduates and even teachers at risk of immediate deportation.
Fortunately, a critical mass of education leaders—sometimes at personal risk—are raising their voices to protect these young people.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA, currently protects law-abiding young people who came to this country as children, typically by no choice of their own. They are students, graduates, and unknown numbers—at least hundreds and more likely thousands—are teachers.
Donald Trump made a campaign promise to strip away DACA protections. Since the current policy is an executive order signed by former President Obama, President Trump can undo it at will.
If he does, the young people covered by it are at immediate risk for deportation, unless Congress takes action to establish new protections.
That’s why 1,800 education leaders so far have signed our petition asking national leaders to protect these young people. Among the signers are the superintendents of some of the largest school districts; the president of a national teachers union; leaders of top public charter school networks and crucial nonprofits; and principals and teacher leaders. Some are risking their jobs to take a public stand.
Why are these education leaders standing up? Because of teachers like Alexis Torres.
Mr. Torres, who teaches history in the Spring Branch, Texas school district, is exactly the kind of teacher schools work desperately to recruit—bilingual and culturally aware in a school where nearly half of students lack fluency in English. At 23, he’s lived in the United States since he was 5. But absent a protection from deportation, he could be removed at any time.
The same is true for fellow Texan Mayte Lara Ibarra, who managed to rise to become her high school’s valedictorian with a 4.5 GPA. She’s now enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, but the fear of deportation remains a constant. “My whole life I’ve lived with the conversation of, ‘OK what’s going to happen if like your dad or I get deported,’” she told a local TV station.
Young people like Ms. Ibarra and Mr. Torres have played by the rules, working hard to better themselves, support their families, and make their communities stronger.
Removing them would hurt, not benefit, our nation. And there are hundreds of thousands of people like them.
Speaking of teachers protected by DACA, Denver schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg said, “we hired them because they are excellent teachers who make our kids and our schools better. To deport talented teachers and students in whom we have invested so much, who have so much to give back to our community, and who are so much a part of our community would be a catastrophic loss.”
That is why an extraordinary alliance of the nation’s leading educators has come together to call on national leaders to continue protecting these young people. It is, in many ways, a surprising group; it transcends traditional alliances and divides in education to ask our leaders to do right by our students.
What happens to the more 700,000 young women and men with DACA status goes beyond moral decency and kindness—there are serious economic consequences too, according to reports from groups that span the political spectrum.
According to an analysis conducted by Cato Institute, the immediate cost of deporting students like Ms. Ibarra and teachers like Mr. Torres would be over $60 billion plus an additional $280 billion in lost economic potential over the next decade. Another estimate from the Center for American Progress suggests that the financial impact could be at least $430 billion in gross domestic product over a decade.
On the other hand, by continuing to extend legal protections to these young adults, we can create conditions for them to thrive in, rather than live in fear in the shadows.
They have the potential to become the next Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, the head of brain tumor surgery at Johns Hopkins University, who arrived in California decades ago as an undocumented migrant worker. He had little at the time, but scrapped his way up to Harvard Medical School before becoming a nationally-acclaimed surgeon.
They could also become the next Julissa Arce, who came to Texas as an undocumented high school student. Through the Texas Dream Act, she was able to go to college and eventually become a leading executive. Their stories and their success define what it means to live the American dream.
What’s needed is a policy that will create lasting protections so hundreds of thousands of young people with great potential futures can focus on their studies and their work, rather than the threat of being removed from the country.
So far, President Trump has not reversed DACA, and his press secretary, Sean Spicer, said Wednesday that “the president understands the magnitude of this problem.”
That is important. So is a lasting policy solution that protects some of the nation’s most promising young people.
Together, as education leaders, we are asking Washington to create that lasting solution.