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Educators and allies fighting for public schools.

Fighting to Protect Students, Educators Make the Case for Immigration Reform

Our Broken Immigration System Prevents Schools From Being A Safe Place For All Students

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There was perhaps no one happier to return to school this fall than North Carolina high school senior Wildin Acosta. He was released from a detention center for undocumented immigrants just weeks before the academic year started.

Acosta became the face of the newest wave of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids—during which students are seized by immigration agents on their way to school—after he was taken into custody last January. During the six months he spent in a Georgia detention center, Acosta endured solitary confinement, the constant threat of deportation back to the violence he had fled in Honduras, and a dramatic last-minute reprieve that led to his removal from a plane that was to fly him back to Central America.

Thanks to the united efforts of a coalition of educators, students, and community activists—who held rallies, wrote, and called the Department of Homeland Security, and even traveled to Washington, D.C. to talk to lawmakers—Acosta was finally released on bail last August.

Known as Operation Border Guardian, the ICE program has created a crisis in schools nationwide. Instead of focusing their efforts on violent criminals or convicted felons, ICE agents seize students at school bus stops or on their way to school—a practice that has resulted in a significant drop in attendance in some schools.

Acosta came to the United States in 2014. He wanted to get away from gang violence and death threats in Honduras and reunite with his family. His teachers know Acosta as a model student who dreams of becoming an engineer. 

Though Acosta is expected to graduate this spring and plans to apply to college, his court case is still not settled, leaving the question of his residency uncertain.

“Wildin’s plight and the actions of dedicated teachers and community members who wrote petitions and came to Washington to make their voices heard have focused attention on misguided enforcement of a bad patchwork of policy,” says Rosa Maria Cordova, an NEA member and new teacher mentor for Arizona public school teachers.

“There are thousands of young people like Wildin,” Cardova observes. “These raids have a terrible impact on students, families, and educators across this country.”

Cardova works with Title I schools that serve a mostly Hispanic and refugee population. She notes that these schools also have a higher-than-average turnover rate for teachers, citing the practical challenges of educating students who don’t attend class because their parents keep them home in fear of raids.

“There are emotional burdens teachers must cope with when students live in constant fear of being deported and of coming home from school to find their parents have been swept up in a raid,” explains Cardova, who coaches colleagues how to meet these challenges.

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision denying the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the implementation of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and lawful permanent residents, means that more students could be yanked from school and separated from their families. 

“Every student in this country is guaranteed the right to an education,” stresses Cardova. 

“Teachers make sure students feel safe and are able get the education they need to change the world. Just because families aren’t documented doesn’t mean they have no voice. The teachers I work with help them find that voice.”

Action: Take our pledge to support #EducationNotDeportation, and find out what you can do, and pledge your support for students like Wildin:

Shrinking Incomes Drive Educators into Financial Hardship

Michigan teacher qualifies for Habitat for Humanity home. 

In a situation that spotlights the financial hardships endured by growing numbers of educators in recent years, a veteran teacher from St. Clair County in Michigan was recently selected for a Habitat for Humanity home.

Algonac Community Schools teacher and coach Jeff Smith has seen his pay decrease, while recent state laws have simultaneously increased his health insurance and pension costs. The 43-year-old father has been sharing a one-bedroom duplex with his two young sons, who share the bedroom. Smith sleeps in a dining room separated from the kitchen by a curtain hung from a shower rod. His parents pay for his telephone service.

The 16-year veteran teacher has been forced to consider other career prospects as his income has continued to shrink following years of step freezes and pay cuts in his district. But teaching is what he loves.

“My reward is seeing kids do well, but I just want to be able to pay my bills,” says Smith, who earns $36,000. 

In a unique partnership between Blue Water Habitat for Humanity and the Michigan Education Association (MEA), Smith will be helped in construction and fundraising for his new energy-efficient, three-bedroom home by members of his local union, along with community members, students, and his players. The structure is scheduled for completion in the spring.

“It’s been a godsend for me,” says Smith, a member of the Algonac Education Association (AEA).

MEA President Steve Cook praised the ingenuity of the Habitat-MEA partnership, and condemned state budget cuts that have created such hardship for educators.

“While these are wonderful acts of kindness and charity, the fact that college-educated, veteran teachers qualify for these homes should be a wake-up call to policymakers,” Cook says.

Nationwide, two recent studies highlight the challenges faced by teachers. According to the Center for Educational Performance and Information, actual salaries and take-home pay for many teachers has dropped every year for the last four years. Another study by the Economic Policy Institute shows that the gap between teacher pay and the earnings of other college graduates has reached record levels in the past 20 years. In 1994, the disparity was 1.7 percent. In 2015, it ballooned to 17 percent.

For Smith, these are more than just numbers. His ability to provide basic necessities for his family has been an ongoing struggle. Michigan’s Public Act 152 limits the amount districts can contribute toward employee healthcare. That law has forced public service workers to absorb an additional $150 monthly deduction in his paycheck, on top of pay cuts, including a $7,000 salary reduction, which happened a few years ago.

“Every year, everything goes up except my wages,” says Smith.

It’s a hand up, not a handout, says MEA UniServ director Michele Israel, who helped to establish the partnership between MEA and Blue Water Habitat. 

“The amazing part is that people think if you work in education, you have great benefits and make all kinds of money,” Israel says. “When they find out a 16-year teacher qualifies for a Habitat home, it changes their perception of just what public educators make.”

Rallying around the project are local MEA members, businesses, and residents of Algonac, including Coach Smith’s students and players. 

“It’s enough to make a rough-and-tumble coach go soft again,” Smith says. “It feels really good to know you’re appreciated.”   

For a more in-depth treatment of this story,  see

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