For more than two weeks last month, she was not in her classroom at Cal State Los Angeles. She was not at the UCLA Labor Center, where she has been awarded a prestigious summer fellowship. And she was not volunteering, as per usual, with on-campus community groups like the Immigrant Youth Coalition.
Instead, this promising student, this young woman who has filled her heart with love for her community, sat inside Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, while her teachers and classmates protested outside.
Tell me. What good does is it do for our country to deny Claudia the opportunity to learn? Are we safer when she’s removed from the classroom? Should we sleep better at night because her voice is silenced?
Claudia is 22, and she has lived in this country since the age of 4. She qualifies for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and would have the protection from deportation that it offers, except that she couldn’t afford the application. Her mother’s wages from her bakery job barely cover Claudia’s college tuition.
(Side note: It was not that long ago that tuition to the California State University was free. Those were years when the state invested in the future of its students because leaders saw the public good in providing a higher education to everybody who wanted it. It is no coincidence, as my sisters in the California Faculty Association have pointed out, that state funding has declined and tuition has been raised, as the student population has grown more diverse.)
Today, I am struck by the timing of Claudia’s detention. This week marks the 35th anniversary of Plyler vs. Doe, the Texas case that brought about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1982 landmark ruling that states cannot constitutionally deny K-12 students a free public education on account of their immigration status.
In its decision, the Court pointed out the terrible harm that would be done to children by denying them the opportunity to learn—and also the damage done to our communities: “By denying these children a basic education,” the majority wrote, “we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our Nation.”
I think too many among us have forgotten the wisdom of this Court. Over the past year, our immigrant students have faced growing hate and resentment that often is legislated and approved by our so-called leaders. During President Trump’s first weeks in office, arrests of immigrants rose 32.6 percent. Even scarier to many of our students and their families, the arrests of immigrants without criminal records more than doubled.
These include young people like Diego Ismael Puma Macancela, a 19-year-old Ossining, N.Y., high school student who was detained by ICE last week on the day of his prom, just weeks before his graduation and a day after his mother was taken into custody for deportation. “They grabbed him like he’s a criminal,” his cousin told NBC New York. “He didn’t do anything wrong, he was just doing the best he could for his future.”
As a union of educators who care deeply about the well-being and success of all of our students, NEA will never back down from the battle to ensure all students the right to attend public schools. I am so proud of my brothers and sisters in California, who rallied on Friday outside the Otay Mesa Detention Center for Claudia’s immediate release. I am so proud of my brothers and sisters in Austin, Texas, Oaklawn, Ill., and elsewhere, who have been holding “Know Your Rights” community meetings for undocumented parents. I am so proud of my brothers and sisters in Milwaukee, Omaha, Neb., and elsewhere, who have inspired their school boards to pass “Safe Zone” policies.
What we all understand is this: We are a stronger nation when we embrace each other, when we welcome to our classrooms our future scientists, police officers, and pharmacists, no matter where they came from.
Looking back at the timeline of Claudia’s arrest—she was stopped by agents early one morning as she moved her family’s car to comply with street parking regulations—it is obvious she was targeted for her strong voice on issues of immigration. Weeks earlier, her mother had been swept up in a criminal drug raid, and Claudia had protested loudly (and successfully) for her release.
But if she is silenced, we will not be.
We are here for her—and all of the students like her who live in fear for what their country might do next to them.