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Trump Calls on Congress to Help ‘Dreamers,’ Bolster Borders

By Alyson Klein — January 30, 2018 8 min read
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President Donald Trump used his first State of the Union address to call on Congress to create a path of citizenship to “Dreamers"—including thousands of current K-12 teachers and students who were brought to the country as undocumented children—while boosting border security and significantly restricting legal immigration.

And he asked Democrats to join him passing an infrastructure bill, without specifically asking for new resources for school construction—a priority for many in the education community.

There was almost no mention of K-12 schools in the speech, including Trump’s favorite issue: school choice. Trump did ask lawmakers to enact paid family leave, and gave a quick nod to the importance of career and technical education.


Trump urged Congress to embrace his plan to create a path to citizenship for the so-called “Dreamers"—a big priority for Democrats—while at the same time placing serious new restrictions on legal immigration and providing funding for a wall along the border with Mexico.

“For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities,” Trump said. “We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and Border Patrol Agents, so that this cannot ever happen again.”

He added, “Under our plan, those who meet education and work requirements, and show good moral character, will be able to become full citizens of the United States.”

Democrats haven’t rushed to embrace the president’s proposal, in part because many oppose its new restrictions on legal immigration.

The outcome of the stand-off is critical for K-12 schools.

Last year, Trumprescinded the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children to remain here legally. But he allowed DACA to stay on the books until early March, giving Congress time to come up with a longer-term solution for the 800,000 recipients that protection.

They include 9,000 teachers, according to the Migration Policy Institute. And 250,000 schoolchildren have become DACA-eligible since Obama first unveiled the program in 2012, also according the organization.

It’s unclear what will happen to these students and teachers if DACA is rescinded without a replacement. Some school districts, including Los Angeles and Miami-Dade, have said they’ll do everything they can to protect employees and students covered under DACA, if the program goes away.

For their part, Democrats filled the Capitol Hill galleries with Dreamers, whose future remains uncertain as Congress and the White House negotiate.

DACA recipient Diego De La Vega, who came to the United States from Ecuador 17 years ago when he was 7-years-old, attended the speech as a guest of Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. Along with many members of Congress, De La Vega wore a monarch butterfly on his jacket, a symbol of “the beauty of migration.”

Trump’s mentions of immigration did not give him hope.

“I think all of us [Dreamers] were hopeful that he was going to portray us in a lighter, more friendlier tone, but I believe he antagonized us and put us in the lines with gangs, and gangsters, and criminals.” he said. “And that was immediately followed by four pillars of legislation that I believe will be dead on arrival in Congress. ... But that’s nothing new for us. It’s been 17 years of repeated failures and attempts at the DREAM Act.”

Underscoring the intensity of the debate: Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., asked the Capitol Police to check identifications of any State of the Union guests and arrest any who were undocumented.

And Trump invited the parents of two teenagers murdered by gang members to sit in the First Lady’s box during the speech. The MS-13 gang members who killed Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens may have been brought to the country illegally as children, Trump said.

“Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors ‑- and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school,” he said.


Trump called on lawmakers to act quickly on a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package that the administration is likely to put in coming weeks.

“I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve,” he said. “We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit.”

It’s not likely the Trump administration will make school construction a part of its proposal. (Check out this leaked draft of the plan, obtained by Axios).

But any infrastructure push will likely need to garner at least some Democratic support to put it over the finish line.

Democrats are seeking some $100 billion for school construction in their own infrastructure plan, unveiled last spring. And more senators—including at least one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—urged Trump to consider partnering with states to modernize and repair schools.

Some conservatives though, argue that school construction should be beyond the scope of the federal government.

Career and Technical Education

Trump framed a focus on career and technical education as key to continued economic prosperity, but didn’t offer specifics on how his administration would strengthen it.

“Let us open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential,” he said.

Members of Trump’s cabinet, including U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, have been pushing the idea of apprenticeships and postsecondary certifications hard in recent months. Three cabinet secretaries, including DeVos, are even part of a White House task force on the issue.

The timing for a push on career and technical education may also be ripe: Congress is in the midst of reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the main legislation governing these programs. The House passed a bipartisan bill renewing the measure last summer that gives states more flexibility with their CTE dollars. The Senate has yet to act.

Child Care

Trump also made a sales pitch for the part of the tax legislation he said was intended to help working parents—a doubling of the child tax credit, from $1,000 to $2,000.

“A typical family of four making $75,000 will see their tax bill reduced by $2,000—slashing their tax bill in half,” he said.

But not everyone thinks the change will make much of a difference. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research organization dedicated to alleviating poverty, said it would provide only “token” help for low-income families.

During the campaign, Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, helped craft a broader child-care proposal, largely made up of tax credits. That didn’t make it into the final legislation.

But Trump signaled that some kind of child-care proposal might be back on the table this year, calling on Congress to, “support working families by supporting paid family leave.”

Scrapping Regulations

And Trump took a victory lap for his efforts to shrink the federal government.

“In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history,” he said.

That includes key K-12 regulations. With Trump’s blessing, Congress scrapped the Obama administration’s accountability regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act, and regulations calling on states to rate their teacher preparation programs in part on the performance of their graduates. The Trump administration also put the kibosh on Obama guidance calling for transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

And in a line that could have serious implications for many career staffers at the Department of Education, Trump called on Congress to give his cabinet secretaries, “the authority to reward good workers—and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”


Rep. Joseph Kennedy III of Massachusetts gave the Democratic response to the State of the Union at Diman Regional Technical School in Fall River, Mass.

With Trump in charge, “we are bombarded with one false choice after another: coal miners or single moms. Rural communities or inner cities. The coast or the heartland,” he said. “As if the mechanic in Pittsburgh and the teacher in Tulsa and the day-care worker in Birmingham are somehow bitter rivals, rather than mutual casualties of a system forcefully rigged for those at the top.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos applauded the president’s speech in a statement. “America must do better to prepare our students for success in the 21st century economy,” she said. “I join the President in calling on Congress to act in the best interest of students and expand access to more education pathways.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., rejected the idea that the president didn’t spend much time on education in his address, singling out his mention of vocational schools. There are millions of jobs in the country that require people with various educational backgrounds, she said.

“They’re jobs that require skills at all levels. In my mind, all education is vocational education,” said Foxx.

When asked if he would support including school facilities in Trump’s infrastructure proposal, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., was noncommittal.

“That’s usually a local issue,” he said. “He said local, state, and federal, so we’ll see.”

President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 30.--Susan Walsh/AP

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Evie Blad, Senior Staff Writer contributed to this article.