Equity & Diversity

After Supreme Court Victory, DACA Educators Vow to Keep Fighting

By Corey Mitchell — June 18, 2020 4 min read
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When Angélica Reyes learned that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the Trump administration cannot carry out its plan to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, she hugged her 8-year-old son tight and began to laugh and cry.

“He was like, ‘We don’t have to move to Canada, mama,” Reyes said. “It was beautiful and it was very joyous and it just reminded me that I want everyone to feel this way.”

The Obama-era DACA program has allowed hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to avoid deportation. In a 5-4 decision this week, the Supreme Court overturned Trump’s decision to cancel the program, which allows recipients to legally attend school, work, and obtain driver’s licenses.

Reyes, who came to the United States from Mexico before her first birthday, is among the estimated 15,000 DACA recipients who are educators. She teaches world history, African-American history and Mexican-American history in the Los Angeles Unified schools.

“I’m going to be able to stay present, to continue doing that work and providing services to my students and for my community,” Reyes said.

The majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts concluded the Trump administration did not adequately consider the impact on the DACA recipients themselves and the potential hardships for the young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children by their parents. Thursday’s decision will keep the program alive, at least temporarily.

While Reyes celebrated the decision, she acknowledged that many of the families are not eligible for the protections that DACA affords here.

“There’s still a lot of my students who don’t qualify for DACA. A lot of their parents don’t qualify for DACA,” Reyes said. “I know that they’re still scared. I know that they’re still facing a lot of issues, but I know that this is something that shows them that there’s hope. This is a beautiful first step.”

Looking to the Future

Vanessa Luna, a former Teach for American corps member, is the co-founder of ImmSchools, a nonprofit organization that partners with K-12 schools to support undocumented students and families.

No matter the outcome, the Supreme Court ruling “was going to have a ripple effect on everybody in the K-12 system and beyond,” said Luna, who immigrated to the United States from Peru at age 10.

A 2018 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that DACA had a “significant impact” on the educational outcomes of undocumented immigrant youths, including a 15 percent increase in high school graduation rates, a 3 percent increase in the school attendance of high school-age students, and a 22 percent increase in college enrollment among Hispanic women.

Before launching ImmSchools, Luna taught in Los Angeles and New York, where she grew up after arriving in the United States.

“I am hugely aware of how that program kind of led for the trajectory in my work now,” Luna said. “Many families are still not able to get any types of protection. And there’s a larger fight ahead of us if we’re thinking about intersection and our work towards liberating and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, knowing that there are undocumented black people in this country.”

‘My Heart Started Accelerating’

José González’s parents brought him to the United States from Mexico just before his second birthday.

After graduating high school with honors, he earned an Ivy League degree and received recognition from the Obama White House for his work teaching students in Los Angeles charter schools.

González is now the senior managing director of Teach for America’s DACA Initiative. Teach for America estimates that 280 corps members and alumni are DACA recipients.

On Thursday, he was too nervous to click on a SCOTUSblog link teasing the Supreme Court’s DACA decision. He knew that he could have gone from being applauded for his work to facing deportation if his permit expired. DACA, which requires recipients to renew their applications every two years, does not guarantee a path to citizenship.

“My heart started accelerating,” he said. “Once I realized what, what the decision was, I think I was just even further in shock and super-excited and just hopeful for what this means for not only current DACA recipients, but for what it means for immigrant communities more broadly, for what it means for the nearly 500 students I taught while I was in the classroom.”

Uncertain Future

Denisa Panaligan was bracing for the worst.

A middle school special education teacher in the Los Angeles Unified schools, Panaligan had students graduate high school who were not eligible for DACA permits after the Trump administration rescinded the program in 2017.

She knew the uncertainty they faced as immigrants. Panaligan came to the United States from the Phillipines at age 9.

“When I first started teaching, I would share my story with students because I didn’t want them to feel alone,” Panaligan said. “A lot of them are still fearful about getting deported.”

A 2019 report from the Migration Policy Institute estimated close to 100,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year.

Many of those students remain in limbo. Graduates from the class of 2018 and beyond aren’t eligible for the DACA program and face limited opportunities to pursue work and higher education. After Thursday’s ruling, it’s unclear if the administration will be required to take new applications.

“The future is still uncertain,” Panaligan said. “The fact that I get to be an educator at such a critical time, it’s really exciting. So, I’m definitely taking the time to celebrate today. Then tomorrow I’m fighting harder and louder than ever.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.