I teach in rural Central Illinois, and my high school, PORTA, is predominantly White, like most of the small schools in my area.
However, I live some 30 miles away from Beardstown, Illinois, a town that is home to the JBS meatpacking plant, which employs workers mostly from Mexico. As a result, Beardstown, according to the most recent Illinois School Report Card, is 38.5 percent White and 50.2 percent Hispanic.
We see the Beardstown Tigers as our rivals, playing them in volleyball, basketball, and wrestling. We also see them as our friends, though, for the very same reasons. When sports work well, kids get to know each other, and they thrive in those relationships.
DACA didn’t come up on our radar until President Trump put it there by rescinding it. Then, I had students coming to me and asking what might happen to the friends they had made from Beardstown. “What happens to my friend if her parents are deported? She’s been here since she was 4.”
And I had to answer, “I don’t know.”
That’s when my students got mad, and I don’t blame them. In class, just a few weeks ago, one of my students demanded to know what a person who was brought to this country as a toddler was supposed to do when he was sent home. “He’s an American, for all he knows,” she fumed. “What’s he going to know about living in Mexico?”
The answer is obvious: nothing. And that’s when the chorus of “It’s not right!” began.
So what is right? According to my students, it’s keeping DACA in place to protect the innocent victims (and that is the word they tend to use) from the threat of deportation for something over which they had no control. They also assert that deporting parents of children who were brought into the country with no intent to come here illegally holds too much potential damage for the children.
As Andrew, one of my ninth-graders, put it, “I couldn’t stay in a country by myself; I can’t even drive!”
The Supreme Court decreed in Plyler v. Doe that K-12 students have a constitutional right to a public education, regardless of immigration status. After graduation, though, undocumented adults have a metaphorical door slammed in their faces.
Why do we do this? Why do we tell people that we will protect them until they graduate high school, then turn them into criminals once they’ve done so? It just doesn’t make sense.
It doesn’t make sense to my students, either. They read the statistics, and they’re aware that DACA affects almost 800,000 students who came to the United States when they were children.
They’ve learned other numbers as well. They know 20,000 teachers are living under the shadow of deportation. That really doesn’t make sense to them. We worried when we lost one or two of the teachers at our school. Imagine what the loss of 20,000 skilled, tax-paying teachers would mean, especially since many of these teachers have vital Spanish-language skills. We’re facing teacher shortages across the nation as it is. We need more teachers, not less.
When it comes to deporting children who came to this country involuntarily, children who may have thought they were American citizens up to the moment they couldn’t take drivers’ education without a Social Security card, my students believe justice demands compassion. When it comes to deporting teachers who embraced DACA so they could serve our nation as teachers, my students believe justice demands compassion.
My students wonder why Congress hasn’t acted to preserve the protections that DACA provided. They believe it can be done; they believe it should be done. Perhaps our lawmakers should listen to them.