I am a Colorado teacher who works with many undocumented students, and every day I am reminded how desperately we need a pathway to citizenship for all.
I have taught students who came to this country when they were months old and live in fear daily that they and their family members will be deported at any time. These students are normal teenagers. They are eager to pursue their dreams, just like everyone else. However, because of their immigration status, they cannot do this.
One of my students, whom I will call Cecilia, was a junior in high school when the pandemic broke out. During the pandemic, Cecilia’s family was informed by immigration that once the border opened again, they would have to leave because their visas were not being renewed.
Cecilia’s family came to the United States so that she would have a better education and more opportunities. Unfortunately, I lost contact with the family and I fear that they were deported. They were hardworking, respectable community members, and their disappearance is a loss for all of us.
Another student, whom I will call Laura, has citizenship, but her parents do not, and they have no way to become citizens despite the fact that they have lived and worked as Americans for more than 20 years.
Laura’s parents pay their taxes, go to work, encourage their children to reach for their dreams, and cheer on the United States in the Olympics. Yet, because they do not have citizenship, they must hide. They cannot even visit their family in their home country because once they risk leaving the United States to see their aging parents they may lose their ability to return here and be with their children.
These are just two stories out of hundreds that I could tell. These children have learned to be careful about concealing their immigration status from a young age. Often, I find out that my students are undocumented only when they have to tell me that they are not eligible to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — the FAFSA form that nearly every college-bound student fills out. It breaks my heart when they look me in the eyes and tell me that the American Dream is not meant for them.
As a candidate for city council in Thornton, I can tell you that immigration is a huge concern for our community members. Many Thornton residents are undocumented or have friends or family members who are undocumented. We have the whole spectrum of political ideologies in our community as well.
We have to come together to find solutions and stop focusing on what divides us. When I speak with people, I see that we are a truly compassionate, caring, understanding population. We all care about the people in our city. We all want to see children succeed. We all want to make sure that everyone has food to eat and a home to live in. It is common sense that we would want to help others; when the community flourishes, we all benefit.
Not having a pathway to citizenship is tearing families apart, and is depressing people’s ability to thrive.
Congress has the ability to stop this. Democratic leaders, in a bid to bypass cruel anti-immigrant obstructionism, have proposed a path to citizenship through the process of budget reconciliation. The current proposal in Congress, if passed, could create a pathway to citizenship for thousands of immigrants in Colorado and millions more across the country.
I call on our elected officials to pass this immediately. We cannot wait any longer. I cannot take one more student being deported. I need my students to be able to focus on their education and not their legal status or if their parents are going to be deported. We are better than this; let’s start acting like it.
Kate Miya, of Thornton, is a high school teacher and a volunteer with the Thornton Arts, Sciences and Humanities Council, and Thornton Public Schools.