The Trump administration’s wind-down of protections for some undocumented immigrants isn’t leading daily newscasts now, but it’s still very much in the minds of the nation’s students.
Chalkbeat sat in recently as students at Memphis Central High School took on the issue in a free-wheeling conversation aimed at talking about tough topics in person — not just throwing darts on social media.
The gathering, called Courageous Conversation, meets several times a month to let high schoolers discuss whatever is on their minds. The afterschool club started four years ago through Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit group that trains students and teachers with diverse backgrounds about leadership and civic engagement.
Here’s what students were asking about the United States’ plan end to its program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
What defines an American?
At Central High School, the vast majority of students are African-American. Whites comprise 7 percent of the student population and Hispanics 3 percent, with some Asian students. The ethnic diversity makes for a rich conversation about issues of race and the laws created to manage immigration.
“We’re called African Americans,” said Jade Easter, a senior. “… Am I more of an American because I grew up here and am a part of this culture, or because of my legal status?”
Her classmate, Lou Davis, believes it’s more about legal status and documentation than about “being American.”
“Do DACA students or their families pose a threat to society?” he asked. “Are they a problem other than just not being from here? I see a lot of productive members of society on DACA.”
What about DACA recipients who are trying to become citizens?
The answer is simple to Jadia Thomas. “They should stay,” said the senior.
But the question isn’t so simple when it comes to their parents. They broke the law, she notes, but “it’s hard for me to imagine having your kids here and being forced to leave the country.”
Kyla Hampton said laws and policies should be changed when circumstances change. For instance, President Barack Obama issued his DACA order in 2012 to protect the children of immigrants who came illegally to the United States, but are now productive residents of the only country they’ve known.
“Isn’t it morality versus law?” she asked. “It seems to me like letting people brought here as kids, who are now our age, stay here is the moral choice.”
What can students do?
Groups like Courageous Conversation are a good first step.
“Nothing changes unless we talk about it,” Kyla said. “The first step for all of us is to get more Americans educated about immigration issues.”
Such conversations build understanding and empathy, she continued.
“We can’t do anything about the laws or whatever, but there can be more groups like this talking about this issue and the problems it creates for DACA students in this school and everywhere. We can care more.”