The Hill (Op-Ed)
By Jonah Edelman
July 27, 2017
Many of the families that Stand for Children represents are living a dark reality.
For much of the last school year, many immigrant families in our network kept their children home from school because they were afraid. The rash of seemingly indiscriminate enforcement actions by federal authorities – some virtually on the school doorstep – created a climate of overwhelming fear. Many parents worried that what started as a routine drop-off at school could end in heartbreak and despair.
It was a painful reminder of why we need a permanent solution for the estimated 750,000 undocumented young Americans brought to this country as children, known as DREAMers.
Enter the Dream Act of 2017. The bipartisan legislation introduced Thursday by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would finally provide a permanent legislative solution for DREAMers covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy who are living in fear of deportation because of questions over the program’s durability. Congress should immediately pass this legislation and provide these youth a path forward.
Whatever your views on immigration, it only hurts our communities when children are driven out of school and into the shadows – when they grow up lacking an education.
While exact numbers are hard to pin down, it’s clear that in immigrant communities, children are missing school more often. After a number of immigration raids in southern New Mexico, more than 2,300 Las Cruces students missed school. Following the 59 percent spike in absences, Superintendent Greg Ewing explained: “We’ve had reports from staff and principals that parents and students have indicated they are worried about their families.”
There is ample research proving that students who miss school are more likely to struggle academically and are less likely to graduate high school. Moreover, the evidence shows that when students experience toxic stress, it hurts their core brain functions such as impulse control and working memory which are essential for success at school.
Recently, my Stand for Children colleagues in Washington State were talking to Eduardo (not his real name) about these fears. Eduardo, who had thrived in school himself, was blocked from becoming a public school teacher until DACA took effect. He told my colleagues that he sees the fear he once felt returning. “Now that DACA’s being threatened, there’s no safety net,” he said. People like him, who are working hard to give back to their community, he said, will instead end up “under a rock” in hiding.
Indeed, even students who should be protected by DACA cannot be certain that they are safe. In another departure from established policies, reports suggest that a young DACA recipient who graduated from high school and enrolled in community college in California was deported to Mexico, a country he had not lived in since he was 9 years old.
The pain caused by these detentions and deportations is hurting students directly. In response to these threats to students’ wellbeing, educators have stepped up their efforts to protect students both inside and outside of the classroom. School leaders are organizing forums to ensure that families are aware of their legal and civil rights. Outside of school, nearly 2,500 education leaders from across the nation signed on to a Stand petition calling on elected officials to protect DREAMer students, graduates and teachers from deportation.
But educators alone cannot undo the damage.
This moment of adversity for our nation’s students, educators and families presents a test of courage and leadership for elected leaders, especially those in Washington, D.C. Sens. Durbin, Graham, Flake and Schumer are up to the task, and now their colleagues in Congress need to follow their lead and pass the protections offered to DACA youth into law. In the meantime, DACA must be preserved until a permanent legislative solution is passed. And Congress should work with the Trump administration to stop ICE agents from conducting raids near schools, courthouses and other locations that are key to the success and public safety of every American.
Children who are learning to read, do Algebra and better themselves through education should never have to fear that their efforts will endanger themselves or their families. If Congress acts now, students and educators can focus their energy on education, tapping the tremendous potential of DACA youth to grow up to contribute to our economy, their communities and our nation as a whole.
Jonah Edelman is founder and CEO of Stand for Children, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for quality education in 11 states.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com