Gabe Sanchez — a 21-year-old immigrant brought to the United States from Mexico as a child — is excited to graduate from St. Gregory’s University in Oklahoma with an honors degree in biomedical science. He has aspirations of becoming a science teacher in South Bronx, New York, where he hopes to inspire a generation of young children of color, in spite of their circumstances.
But there’s one major obstacle standing in front of his dream career: President Donald Trump.
This week, the White House rescinded the temporary deportation relief and work authorization program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, making Sanchez, a DACA recipient, unlikely to achieve his dream career in the near future.
After the White House announced it would repeal DACA, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — the agency in charge of DACA applications, among other matters — indicated that it would no longer accept new applicants. It also urged existing beneficiaries whose applications expire before March 5, 2018 to renew their lawfully present status by October 5, 2017. President Trump on Thursday loosely clarified that DACA recipients “have nothing to worry about” regarding deportations during this six-month period. Yet there is no guarantee that DACA recipients are immune from deportations. Within the first two months of his inauguration, the Trump administration deported 43 former DACA enrollees.
Sanchez and his family came to the United States because his parents led a hardscrabble life in Mexico, furiously working only to be unable to afford the basic necessities.
“My father had to work two jobs and my mom did, as well,” Sanchez told ThinkProgress in a phone interview Wednesday. “There was a point where my parents couldn’t afford milk.”
After they settled in Oklahoma, Sanchez’s father always reminded him to “be twice as good as everyone here in order to succeed.”
“I would read and study every day and I would take school seriously because I knew that was the only path in this country,” Sanchez recalled. His hard work paid off. In high school, he said he became an Oklahoma All Stater and one of the school valedictorians. He was also recruited on a swimming scholarship to St. Gregory’s.
“I was teaching low-income students physics in the Bronx,” Sanchez said, recounting his “amazing” summer fellowship working at Breakthrough New York, a non-profit organization that helps low-income students prepare for college graduation.
Sanchez’s own hard work and perseverance in the face of the racism he felt growing up in Oklahoma has allowed him to bond with the eighth graders he taught and inspired him to become a science teacher in the future. At his fellowship, he helped kids with science projects and inspired them to learn more about physics, a field greatly underrepresented by low-income, minority students at the college level.
Sanchez’s future remains muddled now that Trump has ambiguously thrown the job of passing a permanent fix for so-called DREAMers to Congress, while the president at the same time said he would “revisit” the program if Congress fails its task. Sanchez has a valid work authorization card through 2019, so it’s unclear how he can pursue his teaching career afterwards.
In the skirmish over permanent legislation to help DACA recipients, detractors have begun diminishing the plight of people like Sanchez, in part because critics say there are still homeless children in the country who are deserving of help, too. But it is also people like Sanchez who are stepping up to help underserved communities.
Mostly low-income students attend school in the South Bronx — New York City’s worst school district — where only 28 percent of students in one South Bronx neighborhood meet state and city reading and math standards. Teacher retention rates are also low. Forty-eight percent of new teachers in the South Bronx leave soon after they start in part because of inadequate support from school administrators and job stress, according to a 2010 United Federation of Teachers research department survey. The four-year high school graduation rate for the Bronx is 64.8 percent, nearly 20 percent lower than the national average, according to a Class of 2016 survey by the New York City Department of Education.
Allowing Sanchez to pursue his career as a science teacher could have a ripple effect on his students’ successes. Studies show that student success relies in part on supportive teachers who treat their students the same regardless of race, a bias that is difficult to hide. Student success also relies on seeing teachers as trusted role models. And with Sanchez’s background, students would be able to relate to someone who has lived through similar childhood traumas.
“Teaching physics to these kids is important,” Sanchez explained, saying that he has helped the students prepare for the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT), a standardized test used for admission into private middle schools and high schools. While wealthier kids may have tutors, these kids are lucky to have Sanchez to help ready them for the test and the subsequent interview process.
“I felt I changed their lives for the better. And teaching physics and any type of science in this day and age is valuable,” Sanchez added. “It’s a good contribution to our society.”
“Being from Mexico City doesn’t make me less of a human and I’m just trying to contribute to America.”
After Trump indicated he was phasing out the DACA program, President Barack Obama weighed in, posing a hypothetical to which Sanchez can likely relate.
“What if our kid’s science teacher, or our friendly neighbor turns out to be a Dreamer?” President Barack Obama posited in a Facebook post. “Where are we supposed to send her? To a country she doesn’t know or remember, with a language she may not even speak?”
“I want the Trump administration to understand that I’m also human,” Sanchez said. “Being from Mexico City doesn’t make me less of a human and I’m just trying to contribute to America.”