Senseless delays on DACA decision harms students and schools

Tomas Martinez, with GLAHR, a grass roots organization from Atlanta, chants to excite the crowd in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Monday, April 18, 2016. Photo by Lexey Swall

San Antonio is a city that reflects the best of America in so many ways. The rich, diverse culture it boasts today tells the story of its past — one that is defined by an intersection of international cultures older than Texas itself. As enterprising immigrants have flocked here over the past 300 years, they have created much of what we celebrate in our city. The outlook has never been brighter for San Antonio — our neighborhoods are bustling with activity, our economy is humming, wages are rising and we continue to attract new talent across backgrounds and industries.

But for some of our most promising young people, the future remains wrought with anxiety. There’s a need for urgent action on the status of Dreamers — Americans who were brought to this country as children by undocumented relatives. Since the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program began in 2012, roughly 800,000 Dreamers have been shielded from the threat of deportation and allowed to fully contribute to their communities. The current administration announced it will allow the policy to expire in March and has placed the question of legislation to protect Dreamers before Congress — which is threatening not to deliver such action. Futures have been thrown into limbo.

These individuals have done everything right. They have passed background checks. They have paid taxes. They have come out of the shadows to work hard and contribute to the only country they’ve ever known to be home. As the superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District, I can tell you from experience that their contributions have been significant.

We have DACA recipients in our district and city right now who are model students and leaders inside their classroom and out. Others have graduated and gone on to strengthen our workforce or to enlist in our armed services. We have DACA recipients supporting our children in school. Some 20,000 teachers around the country are Dreamers and they’re an invaluable resource, especially in places like San Antonio that need talented bilingual educators, aides and paraprofessionals.

From my perspective, it is clear that losing these rising stars would do deep and lasting damage — not just to individuals and families, but to the healthy fabric of entire schools, districts and by extension our cities and country.

Indeed, even as we continue holding out hope for a fix, damage is being done. Since October, DACA recipients have not been able to renew their status. For those who remain at risk, the fear is constant and paralyzing. Their friends and families, peers and colleagues also anxiously await a just resolution. The message being sent has reverberated through our community — I have seen too many students question whether America truly values them, when the truth is that we derive our strength from our diversity.

Since I started this job, my focus every day has been on how we can best equip our students with the tools to achieve long-term success. On many fronts, we are making great progress: More kids are graduating, going to college and finding jobs. But for students and educators facing this imminent and seismic threat, everything beyond that is simply on hold. It’s a bitter injustice.

The DACA recipients I know are talented, hard-working, patriotic and fiercely perseverant. You probably know them too. They contribute everyday to San Antonio and America. And the fact that they are facing the threat of deportation is senseless.

It makes no sense to tell rising stars who embody American values and were educated in American schools that they can’t pursue the American Dream — that they must be punished for decisions made by others.

It makes no sense to tell much-needed teachers in America to go teach somewhere else, or entrepreneurs to start their business in San Salvador instead of San Antonio.

It makes no sense to tell Dreamers who love America so much they’d risk their lives for her, that they aren’t American enough to serve in our military.

It makes no sense.

The story of Dreamers is the story of so many San Antonians before them — hopeful immigrants with a dogged determination to build a brighter future here, ambitious doers eager to contribute. And the story of San Antonio is the story of America — a land of immigrants whose contributions have enhanced its culture and boosted its prosperity.

This is not about politics, and it should not be controversial; it is in everyone’s best interest to finally resolve this and quickly approve a path to citizenship for immigrants brought to our country as children.

Pedro Martinez

Superintendent, San Antonio ISD

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