- Associated Press - Monday, September 18, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Last Tuesday, when the news came out that President Donald Trump would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Brisa Ledezma, a first-year teacher at Santa Fe South in south Oklahoma City, found herself in an empty classroom and cried.

As a recipient of DACA, Ledezma, 25, pondered what her future might hold without the deportation relief and work permit it provided.

While her students were at lunch, she took a moment for herself.

“I closed the door, cried a little, got myself back together and prepared for the next class and kept on teaching,” said Ledezma, who was brought to the United States from Mexico when she was younger than two years old.

At a time when Oklahoma schools are struggling to find teachers, especially those with bilingual abilities, the end of DACA would remove some teachers from the classroom and prevent others from entering the profession.

The Oklahoman reports that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week a March 5, 2018, expiration date for DACA, which would strip opportunities for employment and deportation protections for nearly 800,000 undocumented residents who were brought to the country as children.

Trump has said the delay in ending DACA gives Congress time to act. Several lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City, have expressed support for retaining DACA, or enacting similar legislation.

In Oklahoma, nearly 7,500 residents benefit from DACA, including some teachers. Many of them work in schools with large Hispanic enrollments.

“Schools are in so much need of teachers right now,” said Ledezma, who grew up in south Oklahoma City. “This job means that I can work here legally, help my family here, help my community, help the students who are in need.”

With a growing Hispanic student population, including some who speak English as a second language, Oklahoma City Public Schools has tried to hire more bilingual teachers.

Launched last year, the Bilingual Teacher Pipeline program is paying the college tuition of bilingual teacher assistants and paraprofessionals looking to become certified teachers. The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, which is a partner in the program with the district, said seven of its current students are DACA recipients.

“Absolutely nothing changes from our perspective and we are here to support your efforts in every way possible,” Mary Melon, president of The Foundation, wrote in an email to students.

But the end of DACA would mean the loss of a work permit for those studying to become teachers.

Oklahoma City Public Schools doesn’t have an exact count of staff on DACA, but district officials said there are several.

“Ending DACA protections will be a devastating blow to our many students and staff members who came to this country as children,” Superintendent Aurora Lora said in a statement.

Teach for America, which has a presence in Oklahoma, has nearly 200 teachers nationwide receiving DACA, according to the Los Angeles Times. Teach For America, which places recruits for two years in high-needs schools, has intentionally recruited DACA students as corps members in the past.

Nationwide, close to 20,000 teachers are eligible for DACA, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Judith Huerta, who works for Oklahoma City Public Schools as a parent and community coordinator, said she wants to someday become a principal. As a DACA recipient, she is unsure whether that dream will become a reality.

“Today I stand with you as a DACA recipient, a community organizer and a future Oklahoma principal,” Huerta said at a rally last week, part of which was to encourage Congress to keep DACA-like protections in place.

The potential loss of employment for current and future teachers comes at a time when Oklahoma schools are reporting difficulty in finding new teachers.

More than 1,400 emergency certified teachers are currently in Oklahoma classrooms - a state record - and the majority of public school districts in the state said hiring is tougher this year than last, according to a survey conducted by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.

Other industries also have expressed concern over the end of DACA and how it might impact their own ability to recruit workers.

The Oklahoma State Medical Association publicly opposed Trump’s decision and said it would add to the existing shortage of physicians and medical staff.

“Last year alone, more than 60 U.S. medical schools processed applications from students with DACA status,” OSMA President Kevin Taubman said in a statement last week. “Currently, there are more than 65 medical students enrolled. Without DACA protections, we may lose more than 5,400 future physicians who would contribute to the better health of our citizens.”

However, even with DACA, some careers are unattainable for undocumented residents in Oklahoma.

In 2007, the state Legislature passed a law requiring U.S. citizenship to obtain a medical license, or license as a nurse or law enforcement official.

Law enforcement was the career Ledezma originally had dreamed of, before deciding on becoming a teacher. She studied criminology and sociology at the University of Oklahoma but never thought it would lead to a career before the arrival of DACA in 2012.

“I used to say that I’m going to get my degree and put it in a folder and stick it underneath my bed,” Ledezma said. “But when DACA came it was like a dream came true. It gave me an opportunity to not put my degree under the bed.”


Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

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