Trump's Plan to Build the Wall Could Mean 20,000 DACA Teachers Will Lose Their Jobs

Kareli Lizárraga helps out her students at STRIVE Prep–Sunnyside in Denver. President Donald Trump’s latest immigration policy demands strike a blow to the estimated 20,000 teachers, like Lizárraga, who are recipients of Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The careers of 20,000 teachers—and the education of hundreds of thousands of students—hangs in the balance as Congress debates whether to build President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico.

The teachers are all working in this country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was scrubbed by the president earlier this year. But now Trump says he'll continue to allow DACA recipients to work, study and live in this country if, and only if, Congress gives him his wall.

The deal leaves no hope for teachers like Yehimi A. Cambrón Álvarez, a 25-year-old Atlanta high school art teacher, who say Trump is using the so-called Dreamers as a bargaining tool for something none of them wants. (DACA recipients are often called Dreamers, after the DREAM Act—Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors—which offered many of the same protections but never passed Congress.)

Cambrón Álvarez, came to the U.S. at age 7 and began her career through the Teach for America program. But her work permit will expire in 2019 if DACA is not restored.

"There is this expiration date on doing what I love," she said. "It is difficult to think about my life after I lose DACA."

California has about 5,000 DACA-eligible teachers, while New York and Texas each have about 2,000, according to the Migration Policy Institute. With states like California already experiencing a teacher shortage, the prospect of losing more teachers has education advocates around the U.S. scrambling.

One state teachers union official said the Trump administration is playing with Dreamer's lives.

"It is immoral to place them at risk like this, especially as a negotiating tool to build that stupid wall," California Teachers Association President Eric Heins told Newsweek.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a sanctuary state bill in reaction to Trump's efforts to crack down on immigration. The bill limits the cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities in hopes of reducing deportations.

In September, the Trump administration ended DACA, which will expire within six months without Congressional action. The administration appeared to be working on a agreement with Democrats to keep DACA, but now Trump has tied any deal to funding for his proposed wall on our southern border.

"President Trump's heartless, unnecessary decision to end DACA jeopardizes the lives and futures of the 800,000 DACA participants—including 20,000 working in our nation's public schools as educators today," Rocio Inclán of the National Education Association said in a statement.

Teach for America has 190 core members and alumni who are recipients of the DACA program, with the largest share of those teachers living in Los Angeles. This national teaching corps program places college graduates in schools with low-income communities.

Since 2013, Teach for America has offered legal counsel to its teachers under DACA.

"It's been something that many of our teachers have been preparing for but is still very difficult," Viridiana Carrizales, Teach for America's managing director of DACA corps member support, said.

About 32 percent of the eligible population failed to apply for DACA, according to the institute. This rate is due to several factors, including a $465 renewal fee to apply or the fear of getting deported, said Michelle Mittelstadt, spokeswoman for the Migration Policy Institute, to Newsweek.

"Because teaching as an occupation requires credentials that are closely reviewed, we would tend to think people who are in the teaching profession are far more likely to apply for DACA," Mittelstadt told Newsweek.

The fear of deportation has become a reality for DACA recipients. Several have been targeted and deported in recent months, including Juan Manuel Montes, who was deported to Mexico in April. The National Immigration Law Center called it the first DACA deportation.