Opinion: Broken immigration system imperils dreams, accomplishments of students

An APS school board member urges Congressional movement on the immigration status of young immigrants allowed to stay in the United States through DACA. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Jason Esteves was elected to the Atlanta Board of Education in 2013. A former Teach for America teacher, Esteves taught middle school in the Houston Independent School District. He is now an attorney.

Esteves has served on the boards of KIPP South Fulton Academy, Georgia Appleseed’s Young Professionals Council, and the Georgia Hispanic Bar Association.  In this column, he urges Congressional action on behalf of young immigrants living and working in the United States through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program.

By Jason Esteves

About 10 years ago, I was a middle school social studies teacher at a public school in Houston, Texas. The majority of the students I taught were Latinos from low-income neighborhoods, so I worked hard to provide my students with opportunities that they normally would not have.  One of those opportunities was to take 70 students to Washington, D.C., for an ultimate field trip that included monuments, museums, college tours, and a White House tour.

Planning the trip required many hours of work, and I worked with a colleague to ensure that we had thought through every scenario and potential issue to make the trip a perfect experience for my students. Unfortunately, on the night of the informational meeting a couple of weeks before the trip, we discovered that we completely missed an issue that impacted several of my students—they were Dreamers, undocumented students who were brought to the United States as young children. So, traveling, particularly through airports, put them at risk because of their immigration status.

Atlanta school board member Jason Esteves

Although I am Latino — a Puerto Rican — my status as a citizen of the United States has never been something that I’ve had to think about. But for Dreamers, missing out on opportunities because of their immigration status is common.

That experience has stuck with me for over a decade. Today, as a member of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education, I still think about my students from Texas as I work to break down barriers to success for students in Atlanta.

At Atlanta Public Schools, we work to get students ready for college and career, and we do that by giving them opportunities that they normally wouldn’t get given their circumstances.

For Dreamers, however, those opportunities are becoming increasingly limited because of the political climate in this country. Despite the fact that they are no different from you or me — they are willing to work hard to meet their life goals and contribute to society — their efforts are often in vain because of our broken immigration system.

Dreamers saw hope in 2012, when President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. They were finally able to legally leverage opportunities to work, attend colleges and universities, own a house, and drive motor vehicles.

Unfortunately, that hope started to dissipate on September 5, 2017, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the DACA program would be rescinded on March 5, 2018. President Trump later announced that he would leave the fate of Dreamers in the hands of Congress, in hopes that Congress would pass bipartisan legislation.

The stakes are high. If Congress does nothing, more than 800,000 Dreamers, including 24,000 here in Georgia, will lose their ability to work, study, and legally contribute to our communities. And if that happens, we all lose.

Since DACA was implemented, Dreamers have become doctors, lawyers, and started businesses; pumping millions of dollars into our economy. More importantly for me, 20 percent of Dreamers work in education, where they provide students across the country the very opportunities in life that were often foreclosed to them.

If Congress fails to pass and implement bipartisan legislation by March 5, approximately 1,700 Dreamers will lose their jobs every single business day between March and November in 2018 — more than 300,000 in just eight months. We have invested millions of dollars in Dreamers’ K-12 education and professional development.  So, it would be foolish to push them back into the shadows instead of encouraging them to continue to be contributing teachers, lawyers, doctors, and small business owners.

That is why I stand with our Dreamers in Georgia and across the country, and call on Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to support Dreamers as soon as possible. The support of the American people is there — according to a recent Fox News poll, 90 percent of Americans, including 79 percent of Republicans, want a permanent legislative solution for Dreamers. And December is the last best chance for Congress to pass legislation before the March 5, 2018, deadline.

Now is the time for our elected leadership in Washington to step up.  Our country and our state cannot afford to waste this opportunity.

 

Reader Comments 0

68 comments
An American Patriot
An American Patriot

Folks, we have laws in our Country against being in the USofA illegally.  No matter the circumstance, it's still illegal.  We should enforce these laws as our President Donald J. Trump is trying to do.  Our jails and prisons as well as our hospitals, schools and yes, neighborhoods are overrun with illegal aliens burdening our infrastructure to the breaking point.  My stance has not changed regarding this issue since I really started thinking about it ten years ago.  "If you are in the USofA illegally, you should immediately remove yourself and your families and return to your home countries".  Our President, Donald J. Trump should go on national TV, all the stations and make the announcement as I stated above.  His announcement should include a statement about penalties should you choose to ignore the mandate.  I realize that our congress, mainly democrats have made it difficult to remove illegal aliens without a court hearing their case.  President Donald J. Trump, to ease the time these court cases take, should hire as many immigration judges and staff as needed to insure 90% of all illegal aliens are removed, legally by the end of 2020.  If you have not removed yourself by then, if caught you will be deported IMMEDIATELY without any notice to anyone (Laws can be changed, you know).  Folks, we're at a tipping point......if we don't do something about this issue, our country will cease to be.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I had an opportunity once to give some safety training to (suspected) illegal workers.  They did not speak or understand English.  I spoke very few words of Spanish so it was a difficult session.  Luckily I had Spanish language safety videos I could use.  I thought I would be smart, so with the help of our Spanish instructor, I prepared a series of handouts in Spanish for certain subjects.  Unfortunately, I was not prepared for the fact that a lot of them could not read Spanish!  They were illiterate in their own language! 

readcritic
readcritic

@class80olddog And teachers in our schools are punished on their TEKS evaluations when illegal students cannot pass with flying colors when these students are not only illiterate but also frequently truant or incarcerated. All the ESL classes and citizen dollars spent cannot make up for lack of student effort and responsibility. Illegals take off to visit their home country for extended stays and breeze in and out of school at will. It is unrealistic to spend good American tax dollars to educate a careless attitude. This is what happens when education is given away free to the undeserving and entitled.

Starik
Starik

@readcritic @class80olddog Of course, our ancestors faced the same objections when they arrived. The Irish, the Italians... learn a little history. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Starik @readcritic @class80olddog  If I remember from what I learned visiting Ellis Island - in the past, immigrants were carefully screened and those that did not pass muster were loaded back onto the boats and sent back home.  Nothing like our open borders we have with Mexico.

elementary-pal
elementary-pal

@readcritic @class80olddog - Our school is 90% Hispanic, not a single child is illegal.  Most have two parents who are legal; a few have one who is illegal; and even fewer have two parents who are illegal.  The work ethic of these families and these children is amazing.  


On the other hand, there are children in our school whose families have lived here for generations who have illiterate parents who are often incarcerated, the children have little work ethic and are often truant.  So, is it unrealistic to spend "good American tax dollars" to educate them or just the brown-skinned babies?  Just wondering.


BTW...the evaluation system is the Teacher Keys Evaluation System - or TKES.  The growth of  all students is what impacts the evaluation of a teacher, not the pass/fail of a specific group.  

Starik
Starik

@class80olddog @Starik @readcritic Well, no. That was later on, after 1892. Before the Civil War at least they just got on the boat and got off in New York or another port. Ellis Island was for medical screening. 

readcritic
readcritic

Oh, but they are different! They are illegal and their parents who brought them here are illegal. They all feel "entitled" to American benefits even though they broke the law in crossing a border illegally. How is that fair to the citizens who pay the bills and all those others who came to the United States and worked and paid to obtain citizenship legally? Bleeding hearts euphemistically state that the illegals are "Dreamers." Well, so are American citizens "Dreamers." We dream that the laws of our land should be followed by all EQUALLY. No one group should be given preferential treatment by being allowed to enter the country illegally and then actually reap rewards for doing so. Our political vote mongers should be ashamed that they are imposing hardships on the backs of workers who have to pay to support those who come to suck the economic life out of our government system and never pay anything back. The politicians fail to realize that for every dollar freely given away to an illegal, that is one dollar less going to benefit legal citizens who actually deserve better. Our veterans can't get the preferential treatment for job placement, housing, medical, dental, vision, and food subsidies illegals get. Birthright (anchor baby) citizenship needs to be discontinued immediately. If the freebies to illegals stop, there would be no reason for them to come here and freeload. If they are eager for a better life, they need to fix their own country and not break another one.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@readcritic  If we give citizenship to all the current illegals, how is that fair to the people who are waiting in line patiently to go through the legal process of immigration?

Starik
Starik

@class80olddog @readcritic They can't.  The legal process is so messed up that the workers we need can't come across. They don't come here to "freeload."  They're here to work.  

class80olddog
class80olddog

The other thing that is never mentioned is the influx of Central Americans across our southern border.  They have travelled the entire length of Mexico, apparently without anyone apprehending them in order to present themselves at our doorstep.  Either the Mexican government is helping them or they are turning a blind eye to this process.  You don't see droves of Canadians crossing our northern border to get to the U.S.  This is all caused by the southern countries' failure to deal with their own political and economic issues.  Mexico WANTS illegal immigration to the US because its economy is dependent on money sent back to Mexico from those illegals.

Starik
Starik

@class80olddog Yep, it takes a lot of guts for people to come from Central America. Courageous people, who want a decent life for their kids. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Starik @class80olddog  You dodge the question about Mexico's culpability in their transport - usually done by Mexican gang cartels that rob them and rape them while transporting them - all while the Mexican government looks away.  And these people are fleeing corruption in their own country rather than rising up and fighting it.

Starik
Starik

@class80olddog @Starik I didn't think you were serious. Mexican culpability? I doubt it. They have their own law enforcement problems. 

Starik
Starik

Don't people study history any more? Every sizable group of immigrants has faced opposition from the descendants of previous immigrants: The Irish, the Italians, the Germans, the Jews, The Chinese, everybody. It's the same old story. Immigrants built this country, including the blacks who immigrated involntarily. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Starik We don't mind immigrants - we just have a problem with ILLEGAL immigrants.

Starik
Starik

@class80olddog @Starik They're illegal because our system won't allow legal, orderly immigration. I agree with you that we should bring in people we need, not who won an "immigration lottery" or are somebody's relative. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Starik @class80olddog If we put in an orderly legal immigration system, they would still be coming across illegally because most have no skills or English, so they would not make the cut.  You have to do both - allow in the better immigrants, but keep out the economic refugees.

readcritic
readcritic

@Starik And when the past ethnic immigrants came, they did so legally and worked for their own keep. They did not arrive seeking all the housing, medical, dental, vision, and food subsidies the illegals expect as part of their "entitlement" package. Our politicians are robbing the legal citizens to pay the illegal invaders. Our ancestors did not protest and make demands for free tuition, preferential job status, or freedom to skirt legal immigration policy. Where and when does this all stop?!!!!!!

catmom-scout
catmom-scout

@Starik Ah, but the immigrants of yore weren't collecting various government handouts via their American citizen anchor babies. We can think LBJ and crew for the brilliant idea of paying benefits based on the number of children in the household.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Starik @class80olddog  Yes , I understand - construction workers don't need to understand that safety instruction on how to use a harness to keep from dying when you fall off a roof...

John ee
John ee

The DACA program is only a small portion of the number of illegal aliens that will become the majority of voters in the US. Congressional
officials didn't discuss the future ramifications on jobs, environmental effects, etc. on that many more people in the US. Ask the taxpayers what they think another 40 million illegal aliens that become citizens will do to the economy and their children and grandchildren's future employment in competition with the 20-36 year old DACAs and other illegal aliens. Only 32,000 out of 800,000 DACAs have a four year college degree. From federal information - 160,000 DACAs dropped out of school. Another 160,000 have a high school diploma or a GED but no plans to go to college. President Trump ended DACA Sept. 5. Time to start deporting the illegal aliens.

From the Daily Signal -
DACA had no requirement of English fluency either. In fact, the original application requested applicants to answer whether the form had been
“read” to the alien by a translator “in a language in which [the applicant is] fluent.”
The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that “perhaps 24 percent of the DACA-eligible population fall into the functionally illiterate
category and another 46 percent have only ‘basic’ English ability.”

Starik
Starik

@John ee The "Center for Immigration Studies" is as reliable as Breitbart. 

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@John ee Funny , in living in Baltimore during my youngest years , we would go to Little Italy, an Italian AMERICAN neighborhood. You heard much more Italian being spoken than English. There was always someone available to interpret or you made do. OMG! And the menus in the restaurants were in Italian! Imagine that in an Italian neighborhood restaurant!


That area developed along with the Jewish and Polish neighborhoods. That is how America was formed and grew.

feedback1
feedback1

Every DACA illegal awarded with a Green Card would be able to sponsor his entire extended family including spouse, parents, grandparents (on both sides) aunts, uncles and cousins. And they in turn could and would do the same thing, on and on.

So to talk about "800,000" Dreamers is deliberate deception.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

Let everybody in and give them a absentee voting sheet with the Democratic Party box already marked, Pelosi and other Liberals will be happy so long as the immigrants don't move into their community/neighborhood and we won't hear another peep out of the Democrats, problem solved    

Ken430TX
Ken430TX

We need to end "birthright" citizenship period.  If you are here illegally, then your unborn child is here illegally.  If you give birth, US citizenship should not be given to the child.  We must make it clear we expect our existing laws to be followed.  We need to streamline the deportation process.  And second offenders who re-enter the country illegally need to be given long prison terms.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Ken430TX  But until we end the birthright citizenship - just keep illegals from having children on US soil by keeping them off of US soil.

class80olddog
class80olddog

One thing that is never talked about when discussing "Dreamers" is the status of their parents - the REAL criminals who knew they were breaking the law and saddled us with all of the expense of schooling their children.  So are these parents still in the country?  Why is that not part of becoming a Dreamer, that your parents are certified as not being in the country illegally.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I am all for a certain number of immigrants to be able to enter the US legally and work toward citizenship - provided they really want to be a US citizen.  A lot of current illegals have no interest in becoming a US citizen, they just want to use our economy, since theirs is so bad back home - to have a job and make money to send home.  Case in point: the lady who was facing deportation who had lived here 20 years and had to speak through an interpreter - she had not learned English in 20 years.  If I emigrated to France, believe me, the first thing I would be doing is mastering the language of the country I am in.

readcritic
readcritic

@class80olddog @readcritic @Starik And when American families serve overseas in foreign countries, the United States provides base schools for the children of our servicemen because none of those countries provide free school or ESL classes even though Americans are putting their lives on the line to serve and protect. In fact, many countries gouge the Americans who are based there because the attitude is that all Americans are rich. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

People say we don't need a physical wall - has anyone ever added up all the legal costs of just getting people who have crossed the border back on the other side?  A lot (especially young people) cross illegally and then surrender immediately to the Border Patrol.  They know it will take forever to get them processed, so they get sent to live with relatives already living here illegally.  It costs billions to get people deported - billions we would save by keeping them south of the border to begin with.  The wall would probably pay for itself.

feedback1
feedback1

@class80olddog 

And a physical wall is the one and only immigration measure the next Democrat president won't be able to cancel on his first day in office. 

Starik
Starik

@class80olddog What  makes you think the wall will work? Go ahead and build the thing, but let the productive folks stay and help build our country. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

Starik keeps telling us that we NEED these illegal immigrants because they are the only ones who will do less-attractive and lower-paying jobs (roofing, construction, drywall work?).  My question to him/her:  what do we do with the druggies and low-life Americans that you say will not take these jobs?  Are you ready to cut off their welfare and let them starve or incarcerate them when they turn to crime rather than work a reasonable job?  If we truly do not have enough workers, then that should be the driver in determining how many legal immigrants are accepted each year.

LaToyaHill
LaToyaHill

@class80olddog And yet...olddog...back BEFORE we stopped enforcing our immigration laws...all those less-attractive and lower-paying jobs got done.  Houses were built, roofs were installed, drywall was put up.  Painting was completed, yard work was done.  All the stores sold fruit and vegetables...all those things that people now try and claim won't get done without all the illegal labor.  Many of the people who did those things made enough to raise a family, but their own houses...oftentimes kids would do some of those things, especially the yard work.  And a lot of laborers (both Black and White) made at least a liveable wage doing all the construction, painting, roofing, sheetrock, etc.  

And then some people realized we could just "wink-wink" at all the illegals sneaking in because the country that their culture had created in Mexico was an abject failure, and they were willing to do those things for ridiculously low wages.

Starik
Starik

@LaToyaHill @class80olddog Nowadays underclass unemployed people are on welfare, disability, or work in the criminal economy which pays well, has flexible hours and doesn't require passing a drug test.