About the author: Marisol Garcia is a social studies teacher and Vice President of the Arizona Education Association
It was September 5. Donald Trump chose Attorney General Jeff Sessions to announce the end of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. As he rescinded the popular and effective program for aspiring new Americans, he also demonized my students. A local reporter wanted to know why I, as a teacher, was participating in a protest at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Phoenix.
“I would honestly just ask our president, attorney general, or anyone with the power to impact the well-being of my students and their families to meet just one of them,” I said. “Just speak to any one of my beautiful, passionate, committed, and patriotic students. Allow them to share their goals in life, and their pure perseverance is felt just by listening to their stories.”
Tired of protesting and crying about so much lately – Trump’s pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio; tear-gassing of my friends and colleagues at a rally; the sight of emboldened Nazi-sympathizers and White supremacists in Charlottesville – I could cry no more. My tears turned to anger.
I have become that mom whose kids the Trump administration has maligned and directly attacked. My “kids,” my students, have been threatened. That’s why I protested on September 5, and that’s why I will keep raising my voice to protest decisions that are incongruent with this country and my profession, decisions that will deny my students the educational opportunities they rightly deserve.
Take Mario Garcia (I won’t reveal his real name to protect his identity), my former student. Mario is serving in the military. On the day of the DACA announcement, he called me in a panic. Startled, he had just heard the news. He is a Dreamer, a DACA recipient, proudly protecting our nation overseas. He is also my former student. The decision will turn his life upside down. I did not know what to say, what to do, or what to tell him.
I have been an educator for 13 years, and I proudly teach in the Isaac Elementary school district. Our district is 97 percent Mexican American, full of amazing, empowered, articulate, students who commit daily to bettering themselves and embodying the dreams of their parents. The extreme poverty in my school district is at times shocking and many of our students lack necessities. To help their families, these children take on adult responsibilities that force them to grow up faster than any child ever should; but they are lucky, because they are surrounded by their families’ hope and love. This spirit is also a part of the culture we promote in our classrooms. I was honored to be the local president of the Isaac District Education Association and have the opportunity to work with amazing men and women who serve in many roles within their schools and personify the word “commitment.” I remain in awe of the educators who show up every day to guide and challenge our students. These dedicated professionals instill in each child the desire to learn and the passion to have dreams, and to believe they can make their dreams come true.
This district, this community, and these students have persevered despite the deplorable actions and deeds of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his supporters. His infamous tent city – the one he erected as a symbol of his so-called toughness – sat near the public school where I teach.
But unfortunately, the end of DACA has empowered law enforcement to harass our families and emboldened the unbalanced, angry individual who leads our nation to target our community – and my students. Previously, some of my students’ family members were caught in the sweeping raids carried out by former Sheriff Arpaio, ripping families apart and leaving shattered lives throughout our schools. We know this feeling, we have been through this before. We have become the protectors of our community, willingly. Our students, their families, and all of us as educators have the scars to prove it.
Like educators across the nation, we see these open wounds and scars, and they serve as harsh lessons of the harm that institutional racism and lack of empathy can cause. But they are also a source of empowerment. Like moms protecting their kids, we are educators protecting our students, and we are everywhere.
After the DACA decision settled in my mind, and after I cried, I composed myself and I said to Mario, this is what we are going to do. We are going to roll up our sleeves and we are going to fight like hell for you and for the more than 800,000 Dreamers and their families. We will do whatever it takes to protect you and our kids. You see, I’m a believer in that how America treats our immigrants reflects the values that define us as a nation. Aspiring Americans like Mario deserve the certainty and permanent protections that the Dream Act provides. I told Mario that America welcomes Dreamers like him and their many talents. When we embrace their contributions, the future is brighter for all of us.
Ending DACA tramples these core American values. That’s why we need Congress to act now and pass the Dream Act – for people like Mario and many others like him.
Want to support Dreamers like Mario? Visit neaedjustice.org to learn how you can help.