In an anti-immigrant election season, defiant educators build a bridge for America’s undocumented students

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By Sabrina Holcomb

In the midst of a nasty election season where the mocking chant “Build that wall” has become an anti-immigrant anthem, educators and immigration rights activists have ramped up their support for America’s undocumented students.

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Last week, a coalition of local associations from different states held the second-ever DACA activist empowerment training—a class that teaches educators from around the country how to launch the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, clinics that have become a lifeline for DREAMers and their families.

At the end of the six-hour training, budding activists walked out the door with experience filling out mock applications, strategies for collaborating with social justice organizations, coaching from immigration lawyers, and an entire toolkit for organizing DACA clinics and forums in their own communities. They also learned about NEA’s Minority Community Organizing & Partnership grant opportunities that have helped fund DACA clinics throughout the nation.

“We walked away from this weekend more committed to this fight than ever before,” says Gladys Marquez, an Illinois educator who is chair of NEA’s Hispanic Caucus.

i-applied-for-dacaFor most of the educator activists involved in this grassroots movement, the training sessions and DACA clinics are a labor of love.

For Areli Zarate and Jessica Robles, they are personal. Both are DACAmented Texas teachers who applied for DACA at clinics organized by Education Austin, the local that hosted the trainings. Not only have Zarate and Robles come full circle, volunteering at Education Austin’s DACA clinics and trainings, some of Zarate’s high school students even volunteer as well.

“One of my student volunteers is a DREAMer himself,” says Zarate. “He’s going to apply for DACA in November, depending on who wins this election,” she says anxiously.

They’re not the only ones concerned about the fate of the nation and by extension, DACA. President Obama signed an executive order in 2012 that allows undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. That order could be revoked, depending on who wins the Presidential election.

“The awful rhetoric we’ve heard during this election has created a sense of urgency around DACA,” says Susan Banning, a Colorado teacher who attended the activist empowerment training and who works in a district with a large migrant population.

daca-training-collageBanning, who is also chair of the San Luis Uniserv unit, is organizing her district’s very first DACA clinic this November, using lessons learned from the training. However her rural district is going to have to do some things differently, says Banning.

“Our town is so small, students are afraid that if they come forward, they’ll not only “out” themselves but their families as well,” she explains. “I’ve put up a Dreamers Welcome sign and started spreading the word that we’re holding a clinic,” says Banning. “In the past, when we’ve had raids, our schools have been a safe place for our students, so I’m hoping the trust we’ve built will encourage them to sign up.

Once her district has perfected its DACA program, says Banning, her goal is to work with other rural districts throughout her state—and maybe one day train educators from rural districts nationwide.

But first, she’s got to get through her first clinic, which is scheduled a week after the election. “We’ve got to get this done right now,” says Banning, “with the eternal hope the election turns out in favor of students.”

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