Four days before President Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Sarah, a young student who commutes an hour each way to attend classes, emailed me that she was dropping my class.

She believed the impending end of DACA meant she would lose her source of income, her DACA driver’s license, and access to financial aid. She was also afraid she and her family would be deported. Her fears were real, however the information she received was incorrect.

Her story is not unique. In the days following the announcement, counselors considered “UndocuAllies” by the student community were inundated. In my district, some students reported waiting three to four hours to ‘drop in’ and see trusted counselors for advice. Instructional faculty experienced enrollment drops and many more students called, emailed, or came to office hours seeking advice.

Unfortunately, not all districts are adequately prepared to answer the questions and meet the needs of these students. While districts, to differing degrees, have focused on addressing DACA student needs, they have largely ignored the issue of supporting DACA faculty and staff. Despite a unified stance from state education officials, implementation locally is uneven at best.

California is home to 28 percent of the nation’s DACA recipients — 222,795 of 800,000 individuals. While the majority are from Mexico and Central America, there are DACA recipients from all over the world, with South Korea, India, and the Philippines in the top 10 countries of origin.

Even as we focus on DACA, education unions must also address a broader audience. Our students, staff, and faculty may have DACA, and some may be undocumented. Others might live in families in which individuals have differing documentation statuses. The undocumented student community can include those who only have DACA, or only AB 540 in the community colleges — which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition — or neither.

This complex landscape can be difficult to navigate, so educators and their unions must be proactive in training and advocating for the needs of our undocumented students.

What can you do to be an UndocuAlly?

Start by taking time to understand the risks undocumented people face, how they are treated differently in the legal system, and how they do not have the same rights as citizens. They can be held in a detention center indefinitely and often do not have the right to a public defender. We can help build a supportive environment for undocumented communities by following advice found in the UndocuScholars Report.

  • Listen and learn: don’t presume to know their experiences
  • Be empathetic
  • Publicly endorse undocumented students
  • Don’t single out undocumented students or their families
  • Respect undocumented students’ privacy
  • Provide information to undocumented students

This approach can help develop trust while you identify the resources undocumented individuals might need. These actions alone do not ensure the safety of individuals, and it is equally important that we engage in safe practices.

  • Know what information your undocumented friends, students, and colleagues want shared
  • Don’t “out” your undocumented friends, students, and colleagues
  • Don’t “out” where undocumented people live
  • Do not spread information that you are not completely sure is accurate and verified

What can our unions do to build safe communities?

Our members are affected in various ways and we must understand how any immigration-related policy impacts us. Ask questions such as: Who in my union is affected by the policy? How many students are impacted? What resources do faculty and staff need to work safely and effectively with undocumented students? What resources do undocumented workers and community members need?

This is the time for true social justice unionism. Our unions have a greater impact when we focus beyond the worksite and address the issues that affect the broader community. As educators and practitioners, we are on the front lines and need to protect the communities in which we live and work.

DACA under Trump

What happened: On September 5, the Trump Administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would end on March 5, 2018. 
Immediate impact: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services stopped accepting initial applications for DACA.
Longer-term impact: USCIS will stop renewing DACA applications on March 5, 2018. Recipients whose DACA expires before then had to reapply before October 5. Current DACA recipients are advised not to apply for advanced parole.

Ways union members can keep our communities safe

  1. Be visible — wear buttons indicating you are an ally, display posters, or wear t-shirts showing your support.
  2. Provide access to educational materials for members such as CFT’s Local 2279’s Our local highly recommends the AFT pamphlet Immigrant and Refugee Children. 
  3. Use collective bargaining to protect undocumented workers. Find creative ways in your contract to protect the undocumented and those who advocate for their communities. 
  4. Train faculty and staff to be UndocuAllies and create a registry, housed in off-worksite servers, that can help educators refer undocumented individuals to safe resources. 
  5. Partner with other institutional resources to advocate for a strong protective infrastructure that allocates resources to undocumented individuals. This can include developing a Dream Resource Center and working with counselors experienced in undocumented communities. 

By Belinda C. Lum, a member of the Los Rios College Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2279, who holds a doctorate in sociology and teaches at Sacramento City College