Reflecting on What DACA Has Meant to Me

As June marks the 10th anniversary of DACA, Guest author Karen Reyes, a special education teacher and DACA recipient, recounts her personal experience.

June 15, 2012 is a day I will always remember. It was the day that President Obama announced DACA. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing—because it was a day that provided some relief. I would be able to put my education degree to good use; I would be able to get a license and drive; I would be able to live without the overwhelming fear of deportation.

Two weeks ago marked the 10th anniversary of this program and I’ve been thinking a lot about it.

Reflecting on what DACA has meant to me as an undocumented educator, has meant reflecting not only on the past, but also present, and future.

The Past:
I didn’t know I was undocumented until I was in high school. Like a lot of teenagers, I really didn’t understand what it meant. It wouldn’t be until years later that I discovered all the struggles my mom went through, what others went through, and what I could have gone through had undocumented youth that came before me not done all the organizing work, putting their bodies on the line, and fighting for DACA—a program I greatly benefitted from.

When I think about my childhood, not knowing I was undocumented, I think of it as pretty normal. While there were definitely struggles that my family faced and instances that, looking back, I can now understand we’re natural reactions to being undocumented, such as my mom always being weary of law enforcement, I always thought it was fairly typical childhood…well, typical with a side of what I thought was a strict and slightly paranoid mom.

I was able to go to school like any other student, I was not treated any differently because of my status. Now, I realize that was because of something else that I greatly benefited from: the Supreme Court ruling on Plyler v. Doe.

This made it possible for me and millions of other immigrant students to have access to a free public education, not only in Texas, but everywhere in the United States, no matter their immigration status.

The Present:
Thanks to DACA, I have been able to work as a special education teacher for the last 8 years. This is a field that I absolutely love. I am teaching Deaf and Hard of Hearing elementary students, seeing them grow and achieve their goals, and even doing some of my own growing alongside them.

As an educator who benefited from both the decision on Plyler v Doe and DACA, I see first-hand how they are still so beneficial to students and families.

I see it every day with students in my school. Immigrant students are being provided a free high-quality public education, not being treated differently because of their status. Just being able to be kids, being able to go to school, interact with their peers, and not so secretly wishing their teachers would let them have 3 recesses each school day.

While Plyler and DACA have both been in place for years, and have impacted so many lives and continue to do so, they are both at risk.

The Future:
The last few years have been difficult. DACA has been under attack many times, but our community is resilient and we fought back. But even so, we know that DACA is not permanent. We are living our lives 2 years a time and it can be taken away at any moment, and if last week is any indication, we can’t trust that the Supreme Court decisions will provide permanent protections.

This is why it is so important to advocate and fight for permanent solutions. We must organize. Organize not only our unions, but our communities—both those that are directly impacted and our allies.

We all need to fight to ensure that access to a free public education is not taken away.

We need to fight for our elected officials to pass legislation that will provide a pathway toward citizenship.

As I think of the future, I can see this all being possible. A better world is possible, and that’s not just the optimistic early childhood educator in me. I do believe we can have a better United States—one where our immigrant community doesn’t live in fear of deportation and being separated from their families. One where we can be free to exist and live our lives without that fear.

I think of a future where DACA is no more because we have passed a comprehensive immigration reform. Something that doesn’t leave people behind and in the shadows. I think of a future where states aren’t trying to overturn cases that children benefit from.

I know all this is possible. Not because of any one person, but because, like any good union member, I wholeheartedly believe in solidarity.

I know that collectively we can bring about this vision of the future. We have already made so much progress and have had some major wins, but I know we can do more.