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NEA News

We Must Help

A Message from NEA President Lily Eskelsen García: In this NEA Today issue, “Fear Unfurled”, we meet three undocumented college students - aspiring educators - who help others like themselves understand their constitutional protections and what they should do if they are accosted by immigration officials.
Published: August 1, 2017
First Appeared In NEA Today Summer 2017

Key Takeaways

  1. Undocumented workers who risked everything to come here attend American universities with plans to go into the education profession.
  2. So many of those students struggle to earn tuition and time for their classes on top of working jobs to help support their families.
  3. We need to make our schools safe spaces for immigrant children and families - especially now amid ICE raids in their neighborhoods - and revamp immigration policy.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”

These words, written by Emma Lazarus and inscribed on the Statue of the Liberty, remind us that we are a nation that understands the dreams we all share, regardless of where we are from: We hope to build lives we can be proud of, contribute to our communities, and do our best for our children. We all yearn to “breathe free.”

That’s why the undocumented parents in this issue’s cover story “Fear Unfurled,” (Page 42) risked everything to come here. For these parents and their children—for the many families across America who share their struggles and fears—we must stand up for justice, fairness, and compassion. 

Daily, NEA members such as Vicente Rodriguez—an undocumented immigrant who attends the University of California, Riverside, and hopes to teach high school English one day—are doing that. As a member of the Student California Teachers Association, Vicente constantly reaches out to other future “undocu-educators,” participating in workshops and providing information. He believes they’re in a unique position to provide students with the protective, encouraging environment they need and to advocate for and inform their parents.

Vicente graduated high school in 2005 and attended community college. He paid full tuition and helped support his family, often working at mom-and-pop businesses that paid him under the table and well below the minimum wage. It was about survival.

Enrolling at UC Riverside opened his eyes: Vicente, like millions of others, lived a secret life. But he views his status in some ways as a gift that positions him to reach out to—and soothe the fears of—others. 

Like Texas students Cristal and Nicholas, who are featured in our cover story, Vicente is very familiar with the Know Your Rights cards summarizing the protections afforded immigrants under the Constitution, should Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents confront them. Vincente carries extras and distributes them liberally. 

The tragedy for those of us who work hard to unlock the potential of each and every child and keep our students’ families together is that—in the 21st century—our nation is at this point. Many of our students are constantly on edge, fearing for themselves and for their family members. They’re looking to us for help. 

We must provide it, not only by making our schools safe spaces for immigrant children and families at a time of heightened tensions and raids in their communities, but by using our political power and working with allies to bring about fundamental changes in immigration policy. Through our strength, we can breathe new life into Emma Lazarus’s powerful words. 



National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.