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In March, when the coronavirus outbreak shut down Colgate University, I sent my students a private survey to try and address whatever obstacles they were facing. They reported challenges with meeting deadlines and abrupt cross-country moves. Some couldn’t return home due to immunocompromised family members. I gave extensions, worked one-on-one with struggling students, and even offered comfort and support to those feeling overwhelmed.
As the semester ends, students in my Spanish classes have sent me email after email expressing their gratitude. They’ve thanked me for my compassion during the pandemic, but also for helping them see the world in new ways. In my classes, and through direct engagement with our community in Hamilton, New York, I teach the complexity of migration, politics and the interconnectedness of humanity. My goal is always to teach cultural fluency, a skill that will give students a competitive edge in whatever professions they pursue.
As grateful as my students are to have me, I feel an equal gratitude: for my tenure-track position, for my enthusiastic students and for my family, which includes my 8-year-old daughter and my wife, who shares my passion for education and who is training to become an elementary school teacher.
“The country will retain an estimated 20,000 educators.”
Today, with the Supreme Court’s ruling to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, my educational contributions to this country have been validated. I’m a DREAMer who was brought to this country as a child without papers. Since 2012, I’ve been able to live and work legally because of DACA.
For three years, U.S. President Donald Trump has been trying to end the program and make me — and 660,000 others like me — eligible for deportation. His attempts have been foiled. As a result, the country will retain an estimated 20,000 educators, according to the Migration Policy Institute. That’s critical in a field that is struggling to find enough workers. The number of Americans training to become teachers has dropped by one third since 2010, according to new research by the Center for American Progress. My wife and I would have been among those lost, forced to take our talents from the country we love.
My family moved to the United States in the mid-1990s to escape the Mexican economic crisis. I fell in love with America and education; I excelled at school and even pursued my Ph.D. in Spanish. But my undocumented status meant I could not obtain a work permit. I felt completely stuck. My wife, also an undocumented immigrant pursuing a career in education, was in a similar boat.
DACA changed everything. For the first time, my wife and I felt permission to put down roots. I finished my doctorate and was hired as an assistant professor of Spanish at Colgate. My wife continued to study for her teaching credentials. We also had our daughter, a now 8-year-old American girl, who has filled our hearts with joy. We had planned to buy a house to give our daughter real stability and invest further in our city. But, under Trump, we’ve been bracing for a future in which this might no longer be possible.
The consequences of canceling DACA would ripple through society. Without it, 250,000 American children could be separated from their parents and face “detrimental effects on their health and development,” according to an amicus brief signed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The impact on the economy of canceling DACA would be massive as well. Of the nearly 1.2 million people in the DACA-eligible population as of 2018, 94 percent were employed and 45,466 were entrepreneurs, according to New American Economy. Over half a million DREAMers are currently considered essential workers, including 62,600 individuals working in health care. Even before the pandemic, America faced a health care labor shortage; we can’t afford to lose a single one of these professionals.
And, of course, canceling DACA would be a great loss for students, including my own. In addition to draining the teacher labor pool, such a move would deprive schools of badly needed diversity among faculty.
Bilingual teachers like myself can reach more students and teach monolingual students a new language. We also offer new perspectives and teach students how to relate to a broader range of people and points of view. Whether my students eventually pursue business, medicine, the arts or something else entirely, being able to communicate and engage with a diverse client base will help them navigate life and advance their careers with greater ease.
Now that the Supreme Court has spoken, I hope our nation’s leaders will consider making protections for DREAMers permanent, including a pathway to U.S. citizenship. This is truly a moment of celebration for DREAMers and the country. The ruling shows that a positive path forward exists. Let’s walk it together.
This story about the Supreme Court’s 2020 DACA decision was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for Hechinger’s newsletter
Osvaldo Sandoval-Leon is an assistant professor of Spanish at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.