The Face of DACA in My Classroom—One Teacher’s Story

What sense does it make to banish smart, motivated, compassionate young people who understand better than any of us what it means to pursue the American Dream?

The Face of DACA in My Classroom

On September 5, President Trump formally ended the DACA program, which protected undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Below, one teacher shares what the face of DACA looks like in her classroom.

I want to tell you about one of my students.

Her name is Lizbeth, and she first entered my class just a couple of weeks after she turned 11. She was in my on-level sixth grade class that year, but she was a pretty impressive student. An avid reader and a talented writer, she excelled throughout the year and was moved into the gifted class for seventh grade. I changed grade levels that year, and moved up along with her. I remember her first boyfriend and subsequent first breakup, her math-based meltdowns, and all those other seventh grade rites of passage.

The first year Lizbeth was in my class was the year my son was born. Since Lizbeth lived up the street, we recruited her as our go-to babysitter as soon as our boy was old enough I trusted this 12-year-old with my only child; that’s how great she is.

Because of this transaction, my relationship with Lizbeth has continued long after her middle school graduation. Her mom puts my name in the pot when she makes tamales. I went to her confirmation party. She bought my unborn daughter clothes, and I provide her with job references.

She’s more than a former student. She’s a friend, and someone I admire for a variety of reasons.

Lizbeth is a senior this year, and she’s got a full scholarship to a private college already. She works all the time, but still manages to take tons of AP classes and be an involved member of her school community. When I taught her brother last year, Lizbeth was in constant contact, checking up on his grades and making sure he didn’t miss deadlines for private school applications. She’s basically the coolest kid I know, and she works harder than almost anyone I’ve ever met.

But I’m not sure how much longer she can keep it up.

You see, Lizbeth is a Dreamer.

Her mother carried her across the border—literally—when she was two years old. She’s never known any home but this, and she’s fully aware of the sacrifices her parents have made for her to be here. They’re separated from family in Mexico, and she can’t visit for fear of deportation. Her dad cleans restaurant kitchens late at night to provide for their family, and Lizbeth helps him in the summer. They live in a small apartment in a rough neighborhood, and I’ve never heard her utter a word of complaint. It was worth it to her for the opportunities she had.

Now she stands to lose everything.

She got her work permit just last year, and was finally able to earn minimum wage at a legal job. She had the opportunity to go to college, get a meaningful job, and help her family and her community. But with the ending of DACA, all that will go away. When her work permit ends, she will be immediately eligible for deportation. In fact, Dreamers have deported already, so she’s not safe even now.

She’s feeling disillusioned and betrayed, understandably. She’s played by the rules. She has done absolutely everything right. She’s worked hard and gone the extra mile and everything else we teach our children to do, and it’s not enough. She is still being told that we don’t want her here.

My heart is breaking for Lizbeth, but it’s also breaking for our country.

Because we desperately need her. I know this kid; I know how amazing and miraculous her brain and her heart are. This is an incredibly intelligent human being who wants to use her considerable gifts in the service of others. How much better would the world be if there were more people like that around? What sense does it make to banish our greatest natural resource; smart, motivated, compassionate young people who understand better than any of us what it means to pursue the American Dream?

Throughout the past year, I’ve worked to assuage the fears of Lizbeth and students like her. I’ve promised them everything will be okay. I’ve lied. Maybe it was unintentional, but I have not told her the truth. I’m done with that. I can’t promise it will be okay. And while I know that Congress could very well act to protect Lizbeth and her fellow Dreamers, I also know that one temper-tantrum-tweet from the leader of the free world, and she could find herself in a detention center awaiting deportation.

I’m no longer willing to lie, but I’m willing to fight.

I will tell her story to everyone I know who does not support DACA, whether they want to listen or not. I’ll start with my senators. I’ve programmed their numbers into my phone—both D.C. and home office—and I’ll call every single day. I’ll vote in every election that comes along, and I’ll use my vote to act as an ally for Lizbeth and my other immigrant friends. Lizbeth’s voice is silenced…as a noncitizen, she can’t vote, and as a Dreamer, she no longer has legal protection from deportation. She’s given me so much, I am determined to repay her by using my voice to speak up for her.

We are teachers, but we are so much more. Our students need us to be allies, defenders, champions. Our kids are in danger, and we have the power to protect them in ways their parents cannot. We have a responsibility to speak up for the children we teach, and there are no excuses for failing to do so. We owe it, not only to our students, but to the country they have adopted and wish to truly make great.

Posted by Captain Awesome

Captain Awesome teaches seventh grade English at an urban charter school for refugee and immigrant kids. She is a big fan of books, social justice, holiday-flavored coffee creamers, righteous indignation, and Friday Night Lights.

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