Tag Archives: DACA

What Happened to Carlos?

This post is written by member Erin O’Neill Armendarez, NCTE’s Higher Education Policy Analyst for New Mexico.

One semester years ago, after noticing a student’s uncharacteristic absence, I asked the students who usually sat next to him, “Where is Carlos?”

“Oh, he was deported, ma’am,” was the casual response. Deported? Wait. Carlos — not a US citizen?

From time to time, I still wonder about him.  Occasionally I find myself remembering an essay written by a student from Juarez, Mexico, who often crossed the border to visit family and friends. His essay described an afternoon in Mexico when suddenly the loud, staccato sound of automatic weapons fire sent the entire street into immediate panic. Finally summoning the courage to explore, my student encountered two strangers lying dead on the street, haloed in rings of blood.

“How did that make you feel?” I wrote in the margins of his essay, fumbling to prompt him toward some larger purpose. “I don’t know,” he said when we discussed it. “It just happened. It happens a lot.”

Right. Okay—pretty good structure, development, and punctuation — we will give the essay a pass.

With my nose to the grindstone teaching, I did not know much about the DACA program, New Mexico law with respect to undocumented students, or even why an undocumented person would not do the obvious thing —  get into the citizenship pipeline and out of the spotlight.

Now I find I have to think about these things, because I care about all the students who have a legal right to be in my classroom, about their ability to learn and their freedom to come to class without having to worry about whether their parents, grandparents, or siblings will be unlawfully questioned, apprehended, and taken to one of the nation’s detention centers before the evening meal.

After ICE raids in February 2017 coincided with “A Day without Immigrants” activities, absence spiked almost 148% in Las Cruces public elementary schools. Officials saw a connection and immediately made a public announcement that schools and buses are considered “sensitive” spaces where inquiries and arrests would not be made without a warrant or some other compelling reason.

Newer, tighter federal regulations probably will not cause families to voluntarily send their undocumented members back to wherever they came from, as the risk of returning for most far outweighs the risk of staying. Many families immigrated to avoid ongoing, life-threatening violence in their communities. Alternatively, they immigrated to avoid the desperation of poverty and to take advantage of the chance to work and to meaningfully contribute to a society where a stable, prosperous life might be possible. Nevertheless, this new climate of fear could keep students in the shadows indefinitely as they and their families do their best to avoid sudden detention or deportation.

Whatever we might believe about public rhetoric and federal policy with respect to undocumented immigrants, I hope we can all agree on this: children should be in school. To learn and to grow as they should, they also need to be cared for by stable families able to meet their basic needs.

Yes, our schools are already populated with too many children whose parents are US citizens struggling below the poverty line; too many children in our nation’s schools are exposed to horrifying trauma and crime. New Mexico hovers at the top of the national rankings for child poverty and for violence against children. However, addressing the needs of one group of children should not necessitate abandoning the needs of another group. Kids are kids.

The needs of all children should be prioritized. Children of refugees often have trouble learning and focusing in school. The American Psychological Association and other mental health agencies have convincingly documented the depression, anxiety, and PTSD suffered by refugee students scarred by past trauma and the constant threat of separation from loved ones. If that were not enough, many immigrant children are bullied at school because of obvious differences in dress or ethnicity.  Some suffer the humiliation of having their spoken English mocked by classmates.

Children have no power over their own legal status; they are completely dependent on the adults around them and on our legal system. For a variety of reasons, legal status can be virtually impossible to get for many family members of documented immigrants and US citizens. In the best of circumstances, for many it would (and in fact does) take decades. Meanwhile, for their children enrolled in classes in the United States, the very real possibility of deportation or detention (de facto imprisonment) looms.

As educators we are not able to solve all of these complex problems. But at the very least, we should be willing to welcome each and every student who is legally admitted to our classrooms, unlike an Albuquerque high school teacher who posted on Facebook that she believed undocumented students should be deported to “better serve American citizen students.”

Before posting, she probably did not think carefully enough about how her words would hurt her students, kids who were already hurting in ways she knew nothing about.

As educators we are constantly searching for the best ways to serve all of our students. Although it can be a struggle, we strive to offer the best possible educational opportunities to every single one, offering them a haven against violence, prejudice, and ignorance.

I understand educators will have varying opinions on this topic. My point is that until the recent ICE raids, I never thought carefully about the issues undocumented immigrants — including students — face beyond their struggles with our perplexing idiomatic expressions and our less than intuitive system for spelling in English.

Now I want to be sure that all of my students are able to attend all of their classes. I want to be sure they know they are truly welcome, respected by all in my classroom and on campus.

It is my job to support their dreams with high-quality educational experiences no matter where they came from or how they got here. While I do not know where they have been, I know what they might become if given a chance.

Erin O’Neill Armendarez teaches writing courses at New Mexico State University Alamogordo, a community college in southcentral New Mexico. 

Please read NCTE’s 2015 Resolution on the Dignity and Education of Immigrant, Undocumented and Unaccompanied Youth.

When Learning Gets Personal, Part 4: The Bigger Picture

This post is written by Bryan Christopher, NCTE’s P12 Policy Analyst from North Carolina.  It is the fourth part of a series about Wildin Acosta, an undocumented student. You can read the first part here, second part here and third part here


On Monday, January 23, the remarkable story of Wildin Acosta’s quest to earn a high school diploma quietly ended.

Wildin finished his math exam, said goodbye to a handful of friends and teachers, and walked out of Riverside High School having earned the remaining credits he needed to graduate. The moment occurred 361 days after US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested him; 309 days after students, community members, and elected officials helped halt his deportation order; and 165 days after his release from Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA.

The moment also occurred three days after Donald Trump became the forty-fifth US president, and it leaves me wondering what lies in store for other immigrant students and their families.

Wildin’s journey—his arrest, six-month stay in prison, return home, and fall semester back at school—is a crash course in the many points at which immigration and education policies intersect. Those intersections will intensify in the weeks to come.

As schools and communities reacted to the executive action to temporarily ban visas, travel, and refugee admission for citizens of Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen (before the State Department reversed it), many educators are also waiting anxiously to see what the Trump Administration does with President Obama’s signature immigration reforms.

Obama granted temporary legal status to undocumented migrants via two executive orders: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)  and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). Established in 2012, DACA grants temporary stays and work authorization to individuals who

  • arrived in the United States before their sixteenth birthday;
  • continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, and had no lawful status at that time;
  • were currently in school, earned a high school degree, or were honorably discharged from the armed forces or Coast Guard;
  • have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and pose no threat to national security or public safety.

Source: UCIS flier

Two years later, DAPA granted certain parents of children who are US citizens or legal residents three-year stays and work authorizations.

Overturning DACA would affect nearly 800,000 “Dreamers” and affect schools and classrooms more than any wall or visa suspension. On the campaign trail, President Trump promised to end DACA, but he has softened his language since the election. In a January 26 interview with ABC News, he said his administration would release a new policy “over the next period of four weeks.”

As teachers, it is not our place to share our political opinions with students or their families, nor should we advocate for specific changes in policy while representing a public school. It is, however, our job to support our students, regardless of immigration status, and do everything we can to address their basic needs and deliver a sound education.

In an effort to best serve all students, teachers should understand how policy changes could impact their classrooms and look to support students in several ways:

  • Monitor attendance. Follow up appropriately if a student is absent for multiple days and make sure there is counseling and mental health support available for students facing traumatic change within their families and homes.
  • Know the laws. Educate yourself on federal and state immigration policies so that you can share accurate information. US Citizenship and Immigration Services is a good place to start.
  • Find strength in numbers. Reach out to colleagues and civic and community organizations and work together to find ways to support students struggling with changing state and federal policies.
  • Contact elected officials. Make them aware of the effects policies have on education. You see immigration and education policies intersect through your daily interaction with students. Lawmakers do not. Invite them to visit your school to witness the great things your students are doing. Thank them for their time and support!

Wildin’s journey is just one example of how informed community members can advocate for change without breaking federal or state laws. Regardless of the content you teach, be aware of policy changes and support your students as they adjust to a new political landscape.

Bryan Christopher teaches English and Journalism at Riverside High School in Durham, NC. He’s also an NCTE Policy Analyst and Hope Street Teacher Voice Fellow. Email or Follow him @bryanchristo4.