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DACA Strong

"Above my desk is a picture of Saddam Hussein (see below) and former Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Denver Division (SAC), Jim Davis after Saddam was taken into custody." Most of my students are Hispanic and when they see the photo they think it is of El Chapo, but one student stayed behind one day and asked me about the picture. He knew exactly who was in the photo and talked about the hardships his family faced under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Despite the many hardships, he also talked about playing soccer in the dirt streets with his friends and the fear of coming to America and learning a new language. He is a stellar student with hopes of becoming a doctor one day to help those in need.

The topic of immigration evokes strong opinions and emotions but is rarely as black and white as the memes we see on social media. I work in a school that is 90 percent Latino and a mixture of both documented and undocumented youth. They look and act much like other teens and yet some will get advantages the other group will not, despite their grades or commitment to a career pathway. Even my own feelings are mixed on this topic. I value and respect those who commit to the lengthy process of obtaining citizenship illegally and yet when I look into the eyes of a young person who has just realized they will not be able to achieve their dreams as easily as their peers, I can’t help but have compassion. My significant other’s father came from Mexico after meeting his young bride who traveled to Mexico on a missionary trip. She became pregnant and took a cab over the border so her son would be born in El Paso, Texas. His dad could not make the trip because he was not yet a citizen. He applied for citizenship and many years later achieved his dream of citizenship.

I have worked with urban youth in transient communities for 17 years. I have witnessed the students who were brought here at a young age by parents wishing for a better life for their child only to become the roadkill of this complex situation political situation. One example is Luis Robles, a former CEC student.

His story is just one of the many stories of students stuck in the crossroads of the current debate. Cesar came to me in 10th grade as a gifted student in law and also math, a rare combination. He was taking trigonometry and was excited about the many STEM opportunities awaiting him in his future. He became a part of my mock trial team and we successfully competed against schools with much more experience. Cesar found out he was undocumented when he went to get a job to help his mother and discovered he needed a social security card (this was before the passage of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA). He came to me in tears asking about his future options in a country he loved but suddenly felt didn’t love him. “I want to go to college and work hard, I have dreams of becoming a lawyer. I know the gangs are waiting for kids like me, they have already approached me to sell drugs and they keep telling me they don’t care if I have papers or not.” Thankfully DACA was passed in 2012 and he has not fulfilled his dreams of college but is assisting his family.

Another student, Andrea, talked about her grandfather who was full of pride for his farm that helped sustain the people of his town. The cartel had another idea for this rich soil and demanded he grow illicit crops instead or his family would be harmed. He refused and thus began the long arduous journey to the United States with his family in hopes of a better future. Andrea is one of the lucky ones, although the soil was rich in Mexico for crops, her birth on American soil meant many riches for her future and she is currently studying Criminal Justice at DU.

The lure of the American Dream is appealing to many who live in countries impacted by drugs and violence and the numbers of applicants far outweigh the number of spots afforded to each country in a numbers game that fails to take into account the young people who feel this country is there own and yet finding so many willing to turn their back on them. For those in Mexico, the pathway to America can take up to ten years as the paperwork works through the bureaucratic red tape. A lifetime for someone trying to escape the drug cartel violence for a better life with their children. The close proximity of Mexico makes the journey across the border a dangerous and yet alluring option. Others have an ocean between their dreams and yet strive to find refuge in a country free of violence and sometimes death.

Sudi lived in a refugee camp in Somalia with her mother and father. Most of her siblings died in the refugee camp due to starvation and illness but eventually her mother, sister and disabled brother were able to make it to the United States. In many third world countries, disabled children are stigmatized and face discrimination from birth. Sudi is now taking a CNA class and hopes to become a nurse and work with disabled children. Due to her hijab, she is an easy target for those unwilling to view radical extremism from mainstream religion and has developed a catch phrase for the cowards who have no issue with calling a young girl a terrorist on the streets. “Look inside my heart and head before you look at what is on my head.”

Bethany was the only child when her parents brought her to the US. Her two brothers were born in Denver and thus had the advantages her sister did not. Bethany had a deep commitment to her education and serving others and joined the Police Explorer program at 16. It was then she realized the uphill battle to fulfill her lifelong dream of working in Law Enforcement. She did an internship in a local police department and was told they would hire her immediately once she received authorization to work in the US. With the Help of Catholic Charities and DACA, she is working as an evidence technician and will graduate from a Metro State University with a degree in criminal justice in May 2017! She still has her sights set on working in patrol, but wedding plans to a Deputy is keeping her busy until graduation.

America has always been built on hopes and dreams for immigrants. Blanket proposals within our society and the personal struggles faced by our young people who are here through no fault of their own. DACA was created as a compassionate alternative for children brought here by parents at a young age who have little to no ties to their home countries. Many of them have the sames hopes and dreams of creating a better world and attending college to better themselves.

While it is important for us to have strong immigration policies in place and strengthen our borders, turning our back on young students who had no choice in coming to the US but have bought into the American Dream and love this country, stands against the morals and values of our country. It will force them into positions in which gangs and human traffickers can take advantage of their lack of legitimate opportunities.

Schools have always been and will continue to be a safe harbor for those wanting a better life. When I walk into the building each day I witness a resiliency and determination from those most affected by the political strife in our country. My undocumented students understand the current limitations to achieve success and yet continue to work hard in school in hopes that DACA will remain and they can contribute to this country in ways that are meaningful and value the hard work they have achieved in school. As a society, we must encourage pathways for those brought here underage, to do anything less is goes against the values of our country.

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