ARTICLE

DACA Is in the Supreme Court. How About Your Classroom?

On November 12, hearings begin for the Supreme Court cases that could decide the fate of DACA. It’s an opportunity for educators to start an important conversation.

More than two years ago, the Trump administration announced its intent to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—a policy that, since 2012, protected from deportation hundreds of thousands of undocumented people who had arrived in the United States as children. The decision left many DREAMers—including thousands of educators—in limbo.

The administration’s decision has been repeatedly challenged in the courts. On Tuesday, November 12, the Supreme Court will finally hear oral arguments in three of these cases: Regents of the University of California v. Department of Homeland Security, Batalla Vidal v. Nielsen and NAACP v. Trump

Across the nation, many will mark this important case with civic action. A group of DACA recipients has already begun a march from New York to Washington, D.C. Students in several cities are planning “Home Is Here” walkouts to support DACA. And the National Education Association (NEA), among others, plans to rally outside the courthouse and demand protection for DREAMers. 

As stories about DACA once again rise to the top of TV news hours and social media feeds, we hope you’ll take this opportunity to engage with students and colleagues on this issue. Here are five steps you can take to get started. 

 

1. Plan how you’ll lead the conversation.

Any classroom conversation about DACA will require care. This cannot devolve—as it so often has in the public sphere—into a debate about people’s humanity or their right to life and prosperity. Check out the tips from our Let’s Talk! guide and from the Anti-Defamation League to navigate conversations like these.

The NEA offers tips and resources for supporting students and talking about DACA in the classroom. For an extensive list of informational resources, check out Colorín Colorado. Above all, we encourage educators to follow the advice we offered when the administration first threatened DACA: Strive for safety in the classroom by speaking up against misinformation and bias. Educate students about their rights and opportunities. Look for ways to support undocumented students and those who feel most threatened by the legal and rhetorical ramifications of the DACA decision.

 

2. Give students the context they’ll need to understand.

By bringing the conversation about DACA into your classroom, you have the opportunity to set the stage for this discussion in a way that focuses on its historical connections and human consequences. Provide context, address and dispel myths and center the voices of immigrants.

Regardless of the subject you teach, any discussion about DACA can be contextualized within the U.S. government’s history of deciding who is and isn’t welcome to immigrate and become citizens. Though it’s common to hear the argument that “this is a nation of immigrants,” that statement erases the history of those denied entry or citizenship throughout American history—including Indigenous peoples. When we talk to students, we can’t ignore the ways that social and legal approaches to immigration have always been shaped by bias.

 

3. Consider how this decision will affect students.

Almost all of the DREAMers protected under DACA are now 18 or older, but this decision and the surrounding discussion reach beyond them.

Among testimonials the NEA sent to the Supreme Court, Oakland high school teacher Kateri Simpson spoke to the effect DACA had on young students. “[The students] all of a sudden … had agency and advocacy.” They were able, she said, to tap into “the basic sense of human dignity to be able to work for what you want.” 

Those who followed DACA recipients through their young adult lives saw a sea change in the experience of undocumented people in the United States. DREAMers gained access to better-paying jobs, better working conditions and better health care. Suddenly, young people had more representation across a spectrum of careers, education paths and public lives. Those who had immigrated to the U.S. were more likely to become dreamers in the truest sense of the word. 

The recension of DACA sent a different message. For undocumented students or those with undocumented family members, these two years have added stress and removed much of that newfound hope. Many are worried about the safety of their families. Others see people like themselves maligned by politicians and public figures and can’t help but internalize or feel hurt by the hate. 

 

4. Recognize how it will affect education more broadly.

Of the more than 650,000 DREAMers, approximately 20,000 educators were working under the protection of DACA when the Trump administration attempted to rescind it. 

In one testimonial submitted to the court by the NEA, New York City educator Areli Morales said the prospect of losing the chance to have her own classroom and plan lessons is “devastating.” Morales is just one of the DREAMer educators who has spoken out, sharing stories and raising awareness about the consequences of ending DACA. 

“I plan to use my experiences of being undocumented to be an empathetic teacher,” Morales said in her brief. “I hope to create a positive classroom environment that fosters acceptance, understanding, and empowerment to educate future generations of children.” 

No matter your immigration status, there is value in naming aloud what is lost by removing such perspective from our classrooms—and our country.

 

5.  Remember that you are not powerless.

Our article “This Is Not a Drill” provides many opportunities for educators to support undocumented students and families, with action steps for those who live in vulnerable communities and those who do not. 

Educators who aren’t DREAMers can show solidarity. They can write letters of support to legislators, unions and professional organizations reinforcing the value that DACA-protected educators bring to classrooms. 

Regardless of your immigration status, location, the subject you teach or the students in your school, the Supreme Court hearings on DACA open a door—an opportunity to speak up, an opportunity to improve the discourse, an opportunity to educate. 

It’s an opportunity to counter two years of uncertainty with a sincerity of purpose: to make all educators—and all students—feel at home in their homes. 

Empower students to act—and as a community leader yourself, take action to signal support for your students.

Collins is the senior writer for Teaching Tolerance.