Deferred Dreams

You wouldn’t think that the regulatory actions of a federal bureaucratic behemoth—Homeland Security—could draw a tear from even from the most sentimental. But last month, on August 15, that’s exactly what happened—lloré largrimas de alegría.

¿De dónde vinieron las lágrimas? It all started years ago, as an elementary school teacher in Utah, where I taught for 20 years. I still hear that joke that in Utah, diversity means that you found a Presbyterian. But you wouldn’t have gotten the joke if you had visited my sixth grade classroom where Fabiola was my helper during Spanish lessons. Or where the Kim family needed to bring a return missionary friend from Korea along to parent-teacher conferences to translate. Or where Ansumana’s mother from Ghana wanted to make sure her son had what he needed for school. All this in Utah.

The truth is, there is no corner of our great country that is not blessed with great cultural diversity. Our country’s motto is: E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one. Out of our diversity, one country - this is our national strength as long as we nurture and value and teach all children to be prepared for the world that is counting on them.

I cried on August 15th because Homeland Security, with the support of President Obama, developed new rules that would allow thousands of children–brought here by their parents without the proper permission--to stay where they belonged: en casa. No laws were changed - only the rules regarding consideration for the legal permission to be here temporarily. It’s known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and what’s being “deferred” is the deportation of children.

This rule change is not meant to be a full-fix to our immigration issues. But, it is a humane, smart, and necessary way to protect children quienes llaman América su casa. Not everyone will qualify. It’s important for families to get the right information from competent, caring people, and to not to fall for predators who are selling worthless advice. My friends at United We Dream ( are an excellent source of reliable information.

Young people who qualify for deferred action are not on a path to citizenship, or even a green card. However, the program grants temporary legal permission for young people and children to remain in the country to work, go to college or join the military.

The deferment is for two years, but it will be renewable - unless, of course, a future administration changes the rules. Applicants can take heart that regardless of who writes the rules, Homeland Security is prohibited from using information by an applicant to deport them.

Immigration is a complicated issue, and the deferred action program is not a solution to our nation’s immigration policy. However, the program does offer safe harbor for these children and young people. In the meantime, adults in Congress must be willing to move beyond blame and hurtful rhetoric to pass comprehensive, compassionate and practical immigration reform. I will admit freely that I have no simple solutions to something so complex. Soy maestra, asi que tengo un punto de enfoque en cualquier debate político: se le hará daño o ayudará a niños? President Obama has shown wisdom and compassion in taking these vulnerable children out of harm’s way while powerful politicians grapple with huge problems. He played by the rules that every teacher lives by: you don’t punish children for something they didn’t do.

These children—we call them DREAMers—did nothing wrong. In fact, they did everything right: they stayed in school, they behaved themselves, and they want to be a part of the fabric that makes our nation strong. Son buenos chicos y sus familias y sus maestros están orgullosos de ellos.

The Dream Act and this temporary Deferred Action for Dreamers are not acts of charity. Our country needs these DREAMERers as much as the DREAMers need our country. And so teachers welcome this dream of deferred action. We welcome this safe harbor that will bring so many of our students out of the shadows. But the dream cannot be deferred forever.

Langston Hughes wrote a powerful poem about what happens to a dream deferred. It’s not a pretty poem. But this deferred action is beautiful. I weep for joy knowing that a child is safer, and less afraid today. I weep hoping that tomorrow we are one step closer to awaking all those dreamers yearning to breathe free.

Lily Eskelsen, an elementary teacher from Utah, is Vice President of the National Education Association. She is one of the highest-ranking labor leaders in the country and one of its most influential Hispanic educators.