As the White House digs in on its immigration legislation, school leaders and immigration advocates across the country face a dilemma in their fight to protect hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation.
President Trump issued a list of demands—which includes a plan to expedite the removal of unaccompanied minor children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border—for immigration legislation to Capitol Hill over the weekend that represent a return to the hardline stance that he championed during last year’s presidential campaign.
Trump said the list of proposals must be included as part of any legislation addressing the status of immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, and whose deportations were deferred by the Obama administration under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
But agreeing to any plan that would prioritize the removal of unaccompanied minors—many of whom have come to the United States from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala in recent years—would create a conundrum for educators and immigration advocates: in order to save DACA recipients, they would have to place another group that has taken refuge in U.S. schools in peril.
In recent years, tens of thousands of undocumented children from Central America have fled violence in their home countries, crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without parents or guardians. Upon their arrival here, many of the children have enrolled in U.S. schools, where they have been subject to discriminatory practices and unfair treatment.
DACA—which Trump effectively rescinded last month—provides temporary, two-year permits that protect hundreds of thousands of immigrants from deportation, including thousands of teachers and students working and learning in the nation’s K-12 schools.
The rollback of DACA was part of an immigration platform Trump championed during the campaign that also called for deporting millions of undocumented immigrants and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump’s new list of demands signals that he’s backed out of a tentative deal struck with Democratic leaders just last month. Back then, Trump suggested he would be willing to extend legal protection to DREAMers first and “the wall will come later.”
Congressional Democratic leaders have rejected Trump’s demands, saying it shows the administration “can’t be serious about compromise.” A proposed bipartisan bill, the DREAM Act, would give permanent legal status, and a path to citizenship, for people who arrived in the United States illegally as children.
“If the President was serious about protecting the Dreamers, his staff has not made a good faith effort to do so,” read a joint statement from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
Leaders from groups such as the American Federation of Teachers, National Immigration Law Center, and the UnidosUs, formerly the National Council of La Raza, also denounced the about-face from the Trump administration.
“Instead of solving problems like what will happen to the 800,000 young Americans covered by DACA—who are learning in, working in and completely woven into the country that is their home—they are held hostage as a way to make our broken immigration system even worse,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten wrote in a statement.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.