October 16, 2017

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DACA’s Fate Still Uncertain, Librarians Reach Out to Dreamers, Offering Resources and Safeguarding Student Information

Scott Wolf knew that some of his students at North High School in Denver, CO, wanted to join a planned protest against the ending of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). The problem? The morning event in downtown Denver, about two miles from the high school, started at 11:30 am—right in the middle of an early September school day.

Wolf, North High School’s principal, knew he couldn’t make the protest an official school event. He also didn’t want students worried about repercussions, particularly if they felt compelled to participate. Wolf’s decision? He walked out alongside 50 or so kids who chose to protest.

“We can’t say we want you to walk out,” says Wolf, now in his third year as the school’s principal. “But I wanted them to know that there would be no consequences administered. I walked with them mostly for safety and support for the students and the cause.”

Late-night negotiations between President Trump and Democratic leadership threw the future of DACA into disarray this week. There’s no disputing that the President pulled the plug on DACA on Sept. 5, instructing Congress to devise a legislative plan to extend protections for young undocumented immigrants, which President Obama had enacted by executive order, within  six months, before the program ends in March.

But just one week later, on Sept. 13, he, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reportedly met and reached a tentative deal to make DACA law, while funding additional security on the U.S. and Mexico border. Just hours later, though, the President denied the deal on Twitter.

An issue of trust

Five years after DACA’s launch, which offered to protect against deportation to undocumented children under the age of 16, who were brought to the U.S. before June 15, 2007, DACA’s future, once again, is unclear. Called Dreamers, these children and young adults have lived in a kind of status quo: not quite citizens and yet not living under a day-to-day situation where they could be forcibly returned to a country they have no memory of, and where they have no family. About 800,000 Dreamers are registered under DACA today.

But that temporary relief shattered last week when the President decided to rescind DACA. Renewal requests are being taken—but only until Oct. 5, 2017. New applicants? They can’t apply.

The news of DACA’s demise broke just as a new school year had started.

“This is a time when you have new kids coming into the building, they don’t know you, they don’t know the school, and they have to sort out who they can trust and which spaces they can trust,” says Sandra Hughes-Hassell, president of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). “I think the first thing we want to do is communicate libraries are a safe place for them and for their families.”

‘Unimaginable’ Stress

As a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science, Hughes-Hassell has been reaching out to her former students, many of whom are working at school and public libraries across the country. Some are in sanctuary cities, which offer to shelter undocumented students, and some are not. But many librarians are finding ways to reassure students that resources are available to them, she says.

At Denver’s North High School, school librarian Sarah Martinez hosted dozens of students who made protest signs ahead of last week’s march. Hughes-Hassell says she know of a middle school librarian who hung “Dreamers Welcome” signs, while working with a social worker to secure DACA renewal details to families before its deadline.

Another school librarian Hughes-Hassell spoke with is organizing a Parents Night, where DACA flyers can be picked up anonymously, rather than putting families in a position of having to ask for the information. Others are posting links on school and library web sites, resources that can also be found online at Project Welcome, a project at the University of Illinois related to refugees and asylum seeks, and on the YALSA Wikis Serving Diverse Teens @ Your Library and Supporting Youth in the Post-2016 Election Climate.

“To me [posting links] would be a good strategy for a public library or a school library,” she says. “Then no one has to ask for the information. It’s just there.”

Hughes-Hassell also stresses that librarians should make clear to patrons that student records are confidential: sharing what materials kids check out is off limits—as is their home address and other personal information. One of her former students has a large Latino population in their school, and overhears them talking already in the halls. One child, born in the U.S, has parents, older brothers and sisters in danger of being deported.

“She said, ‘I’m just going to lie and tell them I was born in Mexico,’” says Hughes-Hassell. “I can’t imagine that stress level.”

And while not all librarians are going to feel safe extending themselves on campus, or even on a web site, there are ways to still help, she says.

Making displays of books written from multiple perspectives and background can be a subtle but welcoming message. Hughes-Hassell even knows of a school librarian who visited some of her former students at home, to let them know she was still there.

“You can do something personal even if you can’t do anything through your system,” she says.

AASL to discuss issue

While students are always front and center for educators,  teachers and librarians could be Dreamers themselves. Steven Yates, president of ALA’s American Association of School Librarians (AASL) says he’s been thinking of colleagues trying to comfort students in their classrooms while worried of their own future.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in that position, if your status is in question, to reassure students whose status is in question,” says Yates, an assistant professor at the College of Communication and Information Sciences at the University of Alabama. “It’s hard to wrap my brain around.”

AASL is planning to take up the issue during its next monthly board meeting, says Yates. The group is also in touch with ALA counterparts to see if they can work together on next steps. As he hears from members around the country, one message has remained consistent: they’ll support students as they always have, in whatever way they need.

“The main thing I’ve heard is that no matter what happens, our fundamental mission doesn’t change,” he says. “We are here to help students and help them realize their dreams no matter the form that takes. We are more resolute in our mission.”

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Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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Comments

  1. I teach at Horizonte Instruction and Training Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. We are sick about the DACA situation here. I want people to know about a book produced by our former school counselor. Here is the link to the store. http://www.blurb.com/b/3271348-dreamers Every library should have one.

  2. Please consider the other side of this issue.
    We should welcome those from other countries who want to make positive contributions to our nation, but it should be done legally.
    “Now, thanks to DACA, taxpayers spend hundreds of millions annually to reunite the (mostly) uneducated minors with their (mostly) illegal alien parents in the U.S. That’s money that should have gone to support schools, hospitals, and job-training for American youth.” http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/immigration/316765-why-trump-must-end-daca

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