Responding to new threats to undocumented immigrants under the Trump administration, a Tennessee advocacy group is mobilizing educators and civil rights leaders to urge continued federal protections for those who came to the U.S. as children.

The Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition has asked its more than 900 supporters to sign a letter urging U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker to use their influence toward continuing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Known as DACA, the program protects about 8,000 people in Tennessee, many of them students.

“Eliminating DACA will not fix our broken immigration system, instead it will leave over 800,000 young adults across the country without a viable opportunity to contribute,” the letter said.

The call is in response to threatened legal action by a coalition of 10 attorneys general, including Tennessee’s Herbert Slatery, urging U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to phase out DACA by Sept. 5. That coalition argues that President Barack Obama’s 2012 DACA order was unconstitutional because it bypassed Congress through an executive action.

President Donald Trump, who had campaigned to end temporary protections for young undocumented immigrants, has since backed off of that pledge. However, state lawsuits against DACA could trigger yet another reversal from the administration, according to Gini Pupo-Walker, director of education policy and programs for Conexión Américas.

Conexión Américas is seeking to counter that effort with a new campaign under the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition, which organized in 2016 to advocate for students of color.

PHOTO: Conexión Américas
A postcard urges U.S. Sen. Bob Corker to support DACA protections.

Since Trump became president, Conexión Américas has organized letter-writing drives to raise support for DACA and awareness of threats to the program. In February, a contingent of students brought 800 postcards to Corker in Chattanooga. In March, students visited Alexander in Washington, D.C. 

“I think they have a decent understanding of the stakes and what DACA means,” said Pupo-Walker of Tennessee’s two Republican senators. “Our goal is to elevate the urgency of the issue. We feel like time isn’t on our side here, and there is a possibility it could be reversed and students and adults would be very much in limbo.”

The coalition is urging Tennessee’s senators to show national leadership in the DACA debate.

“This issue has long-term impacts on Tennessee. It’s good to have students out of the shadows working, contributing and paying taxes,” Pupo-Walker said. “[DACA] provides hope for current high school students to stay in school and graduate because they can go on to do more. It’s important for Tennessee’s prosperity to have these kids able to work and participate fully.”