In summary

No matter what the U.S. Supreme Court rules on DACA, Congress can act on the will of the American people to give citizenship to every Dreamer.

By Misla Barco, Special to CalMatters

Misla Barco is a Spanish teacher at East Palo Alto Academy, mshipgua@gmail.com. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

Like so many people who have fled their homes in search of a better life in America, I had no choice but to leave my native Guatemala. 

As a young poor woman – and someone who asked a lot of questions – I was in constant danger. I remember asking my mother, why did the government murder my father? Why did they say we are communist?  Why couldn’t women in my country have the same opportunities as men? 

And so, at 18, I went in search of more and decided to come to America.  The journey took an entire year. I was alone. Along the way, I was robbed and left behind by coyotes. But I was lucky. A few years after I arrived in the U.S. I was able to legalize my status through President Ronald Reagan’s amnesty. 

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Others may not be so lucky. Soon, the U.S. Supreme Court could allow President Donald Trump to start deporting 660,000 immigrants who came to this country as young children and have been living and working here legally through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. 

Many of them came here fleeing the same violence and poverty I did, and they are now making important contributions to this country – the only country most of them have ever known. Currently, nearly half a million Dreamers are considered essential workers, with 62,000 employed in the health care sector, according to the bipartisan nonprofit New American Economy. They are passionately driven to achieve great things. And yet waiting for the court’s ruling is undeserved agony.

I’ve worked closely with Dreamers as a Spanish teacher at East Palo Alto Academy, a public charter school founded by a joint collaboration between Stanford University, a Bay Area nonprofit and the local Ravenwood school district. Many of our young learners are immigrants from humble origins, but they’ve gone on to achieve great things. For example, after graduating from EPAA, one student, Lucia, went to Loyola Marymount University, and later to Stanford, where she got a master’s degree in education. Now Lucia teaches American History at East Palo Alto Academy. Another student, Mayra, got her AA and is now the coordinator of an Early Head Start Program. My student Brian was our school’s 2020 salutatorian. He won a scholarship to UC Berkeley. 

In each of these young people, I see a familiar optimism and grit. I cleaned houses in California for 15 years before being able to start my own education at a community college. Luckily, my professors recognized my ability to learn, and encouraged me to find scholarships. 

I went on to earn master’s degrees in Clinical Psychology and Spanish. I’ve tried to be the same kind of role model for my students over these past two decades. In 2012, coincidentally, the same year that DACA was announced, my work was recognized by the Department of Education. I only wish that every Dreamer could have the same opportunities I did. 

All these young people have faced transformative hardship. That’s especially true given the increased racism and discrimination of recent years.  Their communities have borne the brunt of this ugliness, and yet they have not given up. Their resilience shines through. 

Now is the time for people to stand together. In fact, Americans overwhelmingly want protections for Dreamers; 74% support a pathway to citizenship. 

Dreamers never asked to be put in this situation, and they don’t have any other home. It’s our moral obligation to protect them. Already, some young people have been evicted to their deaths in countries like El Salvador, where gangs viciously prey on deportees. We cannot let this happen to anyone else. 

No matter what the Supreme Court rules, Congress can intervene and act on the will of the American people to give citizenship to every Dreamer. America needs their drive, their brilliance and their commitment to making our country a better place.

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Misla Barco is a Spanish teacher at East Palo Alto Academy, mshipgua@gmail.com. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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