Dream On: Stressed Students at the End of DACA

Policies, local and national, shape our classroom practices, our instructional decisions and our interactions with students and colleagues.  

Sometimes, that connection is hard to see, especially when policies create a culture of silence which makes it difficult to track the impact on student learning or teacher decision-making. The climate surrounding immigration issues and undocumented students and families is one of those issues.  Over the past few months, stories of ICE raids, deportations of gainfully employed immigrants, travel bans, demands for a new border wall, the legal uncertainty surrounding whether undocumented students can qualify for in-state tuition,  and now, in early September, the announcement of the end of the DACA program, have woven themselves through the news cycles and through the hallways at school.

The culture of fear, silence and uncertainty surrounding students’ immigration status surely affects our ability to create safe and effective learning environments.

This week during fall break, I was invited by a colleague to visit the offices of our state senators along with the group, Aliento, and Arizona Education Association members. The groups were there to deliver a message regarding the importance of enacting a sensible and “clean” replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. I went to observe and learn more about the DREAM Act, but ended up with the opportunity to advocate for my students who are unable to advocate for themselves. While there, I learned about Valeria. This is an excerpt of the letter that was presented to our senators, telling her story (written by her teacher Rafael Vasquez):

There are countless stories in our classrooms like my student Valeria, a DACA recipient from Xavier College Preparatory who worries of what this [the end of DACA]means for her academic future and risk for deportation.

In December of 2001, Valeria crossed into Arizona through the Nogales border as an 8 month old in her mother’s arms. She has only known the United States, and Graciela, her mother, recalls her first word being “Hi.” I met Valeria in 2012 as a sixth grade student and knew from that moment that she was unlike any other child. Valeria, who is part of a mixed status family, fears that her parents would get deported before she attends college. Her parents have shaped her into the young lady of integrity that she is and have helped in the creation of her goals. She wants to make her community proud through being a first-generation college student and becoming an immigration attorney with her alma maters being Stanford University and Yale Law School respectively. Valeria’s greatest hope is to be a citizen of the United States and to not live in fear, rather to live feeling safe with a sense of stability. She has never met her older brother, Luis, but has created a bond only by telephone. She dreams of being able to hug her brother and play with her niece and two nephews. In addition, Valeria has many opportunities; Xavier College Preparatory hosts study abroad field trips to its students to places like Ireland, Ecuador, Germany and France. However, due to her immigration status, Valeria does not have the opportunity to participate in these programs, worried that she would not be able to return with her classmates. This is just one of the countless stories of the undocumented families that we serve as educators.

…. We as teachers of the various Arizonan communities fear that if we don’t get any legislation passed by the end of the year there will not be legislation in place before the March expiration date [for DACA] therefore making students like Valeria continue to live in limbo and at risk of deportation.

Stories like Valeria’s usually go untold. Occasionally, a student shares information about their own or a family member’s immigration status, but I don’t ask, and usually it is not something they talk about. However, even if most of my English Language Development students are documented and here legally (and many of them were actually born here), their parents or other family members may be losing their opportunity to stay in the United States. I can only imagine the stress within a family with some members facing potential deportation when DACA ends. And chronic stress is not good for learning.

One thing to note is that despite so many recent moves that create fear in these students and families, the majority of Americans believe that the Dreamers should have a legal way to stay in the United States.  Perhaps, this is why bipartisan support for the DREAM Act is building.

My hope is that our leaders can come together and agree on a plan that supports our students and their families, a plan unburdened by further actions that create a climate of fear and mistrust. Dreamers are an integral part of our communities, our economy, and the American Dream.  




Amethyst Hinton Sainz

I currently teach English Language Development at Rhodes Junior High in Mesa Public Schools. I love seeing the incredible growth in my students and being an advocate for them. I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts. Before this position I taught high school English in Arizona for 20 years.

My alma maters are Blue Ridge High School and the University of Arizona. My bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led me toward the College of Education, and I soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel me throughout my career. My love of language, literature and culture led me to the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College for my masters in English Literature. I am a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for me. I enjoy teaching students across the spectrum of academic ability, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education, as well as exploring more topics in STEM.

In recent years, much of my professional development has focused on teacher leadership, but I feel like I am still searching for exactly what that means for me.

I live in Mesa, Arizona with my family. I enjoy them, as well as my vegetable garden, our backyard chickens, our dachshund Roxy, reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), hiking and camping, and travel, among other things.

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