Ten years ago, Aura Menjivar Lara made the long and harrowing trek from El Salvador to the U.S. She left her homeland—riddled with violence and despair—with dreams of a better life. Today, she wears an ankle monitor, which is usually reserved for convicted criminals on parole, fears deportation and the loss of her son, 7, to a shelter. Menjivar is part of an organization called DREAMERs’ Moms, a non-profit organization of women and mothers who advocate for comprehensive immigration reform that includes keeping families together.
The mother of one shared her story during the National Education Association’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) clinic on August 23. NEA, in partnership with DC DREAM, hosted the first ever DACA clinic in Washington, D.C. for area residents.
The immigration policy that helps DREAMer-eligible students, their families, and communities with temporary relief from deportation proceedings, as well as apply for renewable work permits, went into effect two years ago, impacting an estimated 700,000 students.
The relief expires this month, however, through the NEA-DC DREAM partnership, nearly a dozen attorneys volunteered to help run the clinic and assist students and their families with the renewal process, and help new applicants apply for work authorization and the temporary right to stay in the U.S.
Becky Pringle, NEA’s vice-president elect, welcomed the group to the clinic and offered praise to thank those who volunteered, explaining that teachers and educators can often see the fear of undocumented students who are too afraid to speak. “But we also see their hope, creativity, and brilliance. We see their humanity, and because we know we have been called to this role and responsibility, we are stepping up to do this work. We know we cannot do it alone and that’s why I appreciate you for stepping up…and helping our students and their families.”
Jose Díaz, executive director of DC DREAM says, “We’re hopeful that something will happen soon to the immigration system so we don’t have to do temporary fixes—we need something more permanent.”
“Something,” may be coming soon, as President Barack Obama is preparing to issue an executive order that could change immigration polices. Nothing concrete has come from the White House, yet.
Gaby Pacheco, a DREAMER herself, is the program director for The DREAM.US, which provides college scholarships to highly motivated DREAMers who, without financial aid, cannot afford a college education that could lead to participation in the U.S. workforce.
She has been a long-time advocate for comprehensive immigration reform and hopes that the executive order is expansive enough to cover administrative relief, which offers various forms of temporary reprieve from deportation without granting legal immigration status, as well as other measures.
“The President has the duty and the power to make the lives of immigrants in this country better,” she says. “We believe the president’s executive order has to carry forward affirmative relief for people, giving them access to work permits and relief from deportation. At the same time, there has to be changes to the way we work on immigration. We, unfortunately, have paid too much attention to enforcement,” adding that there are other elements of immigration reform that can lead to meaningful changes.
One change, Pacheco says, is not to double count green cards. The law currently counts dependents under the numerical limit of 140,000. Immigration advocates say that dependents not count, which could double the number of available green cards.
With the school year now underway, educators have the opportunity to help students learn about eligibility requirements and help identify groups that can provide assistance with the application process. To help, download a brief, easy-to-read guide for teachers to help eligible students. The guide defines DACA, offers general information about ways educators can help undocumented students, and the specific steps they can take in assisting students through the deportation deferment application process.