Tania Chairez is not excited about President Donald Trump backing away from a campaign promise to end temporary protections for young undocumented immigrants — even as she benefits from the news.
“I think he’s just continuously playing with our lives,” said the 24-year-old parent organizer in Denver, who is able to work because of those protections. “There’s still a feeling of anxiety in our community.”
Comments made by Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, this weekend that the president wants to work with congressional leaders to find a long-term solution for young undocumented immigrants — hundreds of them teachers, and thousands of them students — was met with skepticism and in some cases hopefulness by undocumented immigrants, advocates and politicians alike.
More than 750,000 young undocumented immigrants got a reprieve from deportation under former President Obama’s executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to repeal that executive order as part of his hard line on immigration.
“While it’s a relief to hear that thousands of people may not be under immediate threat, my request to President Trump remains the same: declare once and for all that the thousands of young people who are able to pursue the American dream through the DACA program will be able to continue to do so while working towards a more permanent solution in Congress,” Colorado’s Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran, a Democrat, said in an email.
Duran, the state’s first Latina speaker, and other Colorado Latino Democrats last week sent Trump a letter urging him to rethink his position.
Teach For America, a nonprofit that recruits college students to teach in schools that educate some of the nation’s poorest students, currently employs 146 teachers with deferred status. Leaders there have created a detailed plan in case DACA’s protections are repealed, but TFA spokesman Dan Griffin said on Monday the organization was hopeful.
“We believe that our ‘DACAmented’ teachers should be able to teach and lead in their communities while pursuing pathways to citizenship,” Griffin said.
School districts across the nation, including those in Denver and New York City, have also employed teachers who are only eligible to work because of DACA.
In May, the New York State Board of Regents made permanent regulations that allow people protected by DACA to apply for teacher certification and professional licenses from the state. Chancellor Carmen Fariña, head of the New York City’s schools, supported the move in a public letter. Though it’s not clear how many teachers have benefitted from DACA, at least 45,000 people statewide have been granted the protection.
Yatziri Tovar, who was born in Mexico City but now lives in New York City, hopes to be one of them. Her dream is to become a bilingual teacher at her old elementary school, P.S. 8 in the Bronx.
Just months away from finishing her degree, losing her status would change everything. For now, Tovar said she’s choosing to keep moving.
“A lot of my friends, they didn’t go to college because they thought, ‘Once I graduate, I can’t do anything with my degree,’” she said. “I plan to still graduate. And even if I can’t do anything with my degree, Trump can take away everything — but he can’t take away my degree.”
Tovar, who was first granted DACA status in 2012, just submitted the paperwork for her second renewal and is gearing up for her student-teaching assignment. But not all advocates agree that young undocumented immigrants should apply or renew now that Trump is in the White House.
“We’ve counseled families to not submit new applications for DACA,” said Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and strategic growth for Conexión Américas, a Nashville-based nonprofit serving Tennessee’s immigrant community. “As of today, we’re not changing our position, which is just don’t submit anything.”
On Monday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer also sidestepped a question about what young people now protected by DACA should know, saying that President Trump’s initial focus will be on undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes.
While advocates remain anxious, a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers introduced legislation earlier this month in the U.S. Senate, known as the BRIDGE Act, that would provide DACA-like protections to young undocumented youth for up to three years.
Among the sponsors of the legislation is Congressman Mike Coffman, a Republican who represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District.
“I expect the new administration will look to Congress to help it address the DACA issue,” Coffman said in an email. “I believe my bill, the BRIDGE ACT, will start us on a path to meaningful immigration reform which will help us secure our borders, grow our economy, and keep families together while protecting these youths from the fear of deportation.”
Chalkbeat reporters Christina Veiga and Grace Tatter contributed reporting from New York City and Nashville.