Dallas ISD Prepared, But Not Panicking, On DACA

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Almost half of the Dallas ISD student population is comprised of English language learners, and district officials are planning for vast swaths of those students and their families to be affected by DACA’s expiration.

As Congress and President Trump continue to argue the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the uncertainty is affecting Dallas Independent School District classrooms, officials told the board of trustees yesterday.

“It’s out of our control,” said superintendent Michael Hinojosa. “They (Congress) worked on immigration for 10 years, without consensus.”

He added that a recent ruling in Federal court means that ending DACA can’t happen until all related pending court cases are resolved. The program is currently due to expire in March.

“So at least we know we’re safe for this year,” he said. “We have to let this thing play out. We don’t know for next year.”

District-wide, there are about 85 employees that have DACA permits — 38 are teachers. Many, Hinojosa said, are teaching in bilingual classes, where it is harder to find subs if those teachers are suddenly left permitless and cannot work.

Those bilingual teachers include teachers that work with Dallas ISD’s popular Two-Way Dual Language Spanish immersion program.

More troubling is the toll it may take on the student body. “We have almost 70,000 English learners in Dallas ISD,” Hinojosa told the board at its briefing yesterday. “We don’t know how many are undocumented because we don’t ask.”

Federal law (and a Supreme Court ruling) preclude districts from asking about a student’s immigration status. According to district statistics, 45 percent of the total student body are English language learners.

With those kinds of statistics, the likelihood a high number of students (or their families) being affected by DACA’s expiration is high, Hinojosa said, adding that the district is already seeing a drop in students.

And this uncertainty — and possible expiration — will also hit other industries in Dallas hard. Hinojosa pointed out that restaurants and construction will also be hard hit if DACA expires. The Dallas Builders Association said recently that the region’s already dire shortage of 20,000 construction workers results in delays of about two months on average and increases housing costs by nearly $5,000.

“The future of our industry, which is a major part of the region’s economy, depends on young men and women who are ready, willing and able to fill these 20,000 open jobs,” the DBA said. “Our efforts will continue to focus on policies that allow them to step out of the shadows and into our workforce.”

Nationally, nearly 19 percent of working DACA recipients hold jobs in food service, with the construction sector the second biggest employer at 10 percent, the New American Economy’s analysis revealed. All total, that’s about 240,000 people that would suddenly disappear from job sites and kitchens everywhere.

In the meantime, Dallas ISD isn’t wringing its hands and waiting. After the district passed a resolution last year to be a welcoming community, the district’s communications chief, Toni Cordova, and her team began crafting a website designed to help parents and students navigate the turbulence, and make plans. That website launched yesterday, with last year’s resolution on the front page.

“We don’t want to create a panic,” Cordova told the board. “But on the other hand, we want people to be prepared if something happens.”

“That’s the biggest message, we want people to have a plan, and a backup plan, and now what their resources are,” she said.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking portion of the presentation came when the district revealed that it is also formulating contingency plans for students who may find themselves alone if Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids pick up their parents while they’re at school. While Hinojosa said the district isn’t quite ready to reveal what those plans are, they are aware that with DACA’s potential expiry, they could be needed.

As it stands, schools will likely not be the site of an ICE raid. ICE policy considers schools “sensitive locations,” and does not generally carry out arrests, searches or surveillance activity there without approval from a supervisor, and only under very specific circumstances.

“This (the expiration of DACA) could have a devastating impact on our students,” said board president Dan Micciche. “We need our students to stay focused, and this is a real challenge for them and their families.”

“Some families are talking about what we are going to be doing in five weeks because they don’t know,” Hinojosa said of families affected by DACA. “Some of us are planning our Spring Break, and some of us are planning where they’ll be in five months.”

Bethany Erickson is the education, consumer affairs, and public policy columnist for CandysDirt.com. Contact her at bethany@candysdirt.com.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson lives in a 1961 Fox and Jacobs home with her husband, a second-grader, and Conrad Bain the dog. If she won the lottery, she'd by an E. Faye Jones home. She's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Online News Association, the Education Writers Association, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and the Society of Professional Journalists. She doesn't like lima beans or the word moist.

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