Even as they comfort students, undocumented teachers in LA share the same fears about DACA
Esmeralda Fabián Romero | December 4, 2016
Francisco Bravo is proud to be an educator and serve students with special needs in Lincoln Heights. Obtaining his college degree and then a master’s degree in education as an undocumented student was hard, but not as difficult as now facing possible deportation and losing everything he has achieved if the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program disappears under the new Trump administration. He’s worried — but not defeated.
“For many years I fought for DACA, and having heard that Trump didn’t support DACA and that he would take it away, the day after the election came as a shock to me. I wasn’t feeling well emotionally,” said the special education teacher at Alliance Susan & Eric Smidt Technology High School who was born in Puebla, Mexico, and arrived in the U.S. at age 6.
“Later on I started remembering it wasn’t easy as an undocumented student going to college and also getting my master’s, so that helped me to guide my feelings and thoughts. I realized I am part of this community, I don’t know any other home, so I’m not going to leave.”
Bravo said he was afraid to share his worries with his wife, especially as they have a son who needs special education services, and sharing his concerns was like admitting he would have to leave everything he has worked so hard for. “I know the future is going to be difficult, but I’ll do my best while I’m here. I will not let anything stop me.”
In the same way that DACA students face uncertainty in their future and education, the concern also extends to Los Angeles educators and school workers. For that reason, the teachers union invited its members to an immigration forum at their headquarters Thursday evening.
They received legal guidance and resources on how to protect students and colleagues. UTLA’s leader said the group will hold public demonstrations against attacks on the immigrant community and in defense of access to public education.
Bravo also knows he is not alone. He decided to talk openly about his situation with the staff and students of his school and says he received the support he needed. “I let them know this is going to impact me, I might not be here, and they were very supportive,” says the teacher who has also found a support network among other DACA teachers from other schools. “We shared experiences, concerns, we almost cried, and we question what we should do, make known to the community, organize ourselves.”
His main concerns now are his students, so he has already shared with them about his legal status and about the risks he may be facing. He said his students have given him the encouragement to face moments of uncertainty.
“They are students who face great challenges in learning, so I have assured them that I am well and that I will not stop supporting them the way I have done so far,” Bravo said. “I want to let them know that nothing is more important than their education, that nothing should stop you.”
Lida Jennings, executive director of Teach for America in Los Angeles, said Friday that the situation faced by DACA teachers is pressing. “We have right now about 17 DACA teachers that are currently TFA alumni and teachers here in Los Angeles, so that issue is a very important one for us,” she said. TFA supports the teachers with financial assistance, covering their legal costs as well as the cost of renewing their work permits if they’re eligible to do so.
Ilse Escobar is also a beneficiary of DACA. She’s currently working as a parent and community organizer for UTLA, under the temporary work permit granted through the program, supporting LA Unified educators, parents and students.
Escobar said she’s being directly affected by the atmosphere of worry and fear among LA educators. Just as dozens of teachers and school workers who attended Thursday’s forum, she believes they must be ready and organized to defend educators and students in their community from the risk of deportation.
“People are now questioning how the future will look post-January 20th. Students are wondering if they and their families are going to be able to stay in this country if I’m not a U.S. citizen, because anyone who is not a citizen is reasonably worried about their safety in this country and whether or not they’d be able to stay,” she said.
Escobar, who came to the U.S. at a very young age with her parents and younger sister from Guerrero, Mexico, said that many who are currently working in education are experiencing uncertainty, which is directly affecting students.
“I think across the country that’s true not only at LAUSD. A lot of people, including educators, are in this situation. I cannot give tangible data, but I know it is happening. The reason many of them went into this profession is actually because they felt that’s a good and safe place to work as teachers, and we want to keep it that way,” she said. As a member of the teachers union, Escobar noted that Los Angeles educators are ready and organized to protect and defend their students and families.
Wilson High School teacher Rudy Dueñas, who also attended the UTLA forum, said he knows firsthand the trauma that many of his students may be experiencing “in a silent manner,” in the same way he experienced neighborhood violence at a young age. He believes students who do not express their fears are the ones who most need their teachers’ support right now.
“We have to be the ears of our students, listen to them, give them the space to talk. Maybe we do not have the answers, but we have to let them know we are here for them,” he said.
At the forum, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said that teachers and school workers are ready to hold three upcoming demonstrations: one on Dec. 15 to promote community schools, one on Jan. 19 to reaffirm that schools are “safe zones” and that staff will resist any attacks on immigrant students, their families and the community, and the third on Feb. 28 in regards to their union contract.