Schoolteachers on edge as Trump mulls changing 'Dreamers' policy

(Reuters) - Maria Rocha does not generally discuss her immigration status with her third-graders at a San Antonio charter school. Sometimes, though, one finds out that she lacks legal authorization to live in the country, often a child in similar circumstances.

“I tell them: ‘I’m just like your mommy,’” Rocha said. “I relate myself to them.”

Rocha is one of nearly 800,000 undocumented young people in the United States to receive work authorization through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. After graduating from the University of Texas at San Antonio, she was accepted into Teach for America, which places high-achieving college graduates in low-income schools.

The organization has 95 DACA recipients among its thousands of teachers, said Viridiana Carrizales, its managing director for DACA. She says such teachers bring an important perspective to their work and can relate to students and parents in immigrant communities.

Now, however, Teach for America is worried about what will happen to people like Rocha if U.S. President Donald Trump follows through on his campaign promise to end DACA.

“We could have teachers who are forced to leave their classes in the middle of the year,” Carrizales said.

The White House said on Friday that Trump would announce on Tuesday whether he will keep DACA, which protects participants from deportation and allows them to work without giving them full legal status.

Supporters of DACA say the people it protects, known as “Dreamers,” grew up and were educated in the United States and have little connection to the countries where they are citizens. Opponents say illegal immigrants take jobs from U.S. citizens.

About 618,000 DACA recipients, more than three-quarters of the total, came from Mexico like Rocha, who entered the U.S. as a 3-year-old. More than 200,000 of those in the program live in California, while 100,000 are in Texas. New York, Illinois and Florida also have large numbers.

The U.S. government does not track DACA recipients by profession, and employers do not necessarily know whether an employee is in the program unless he or she voluntarily discloses it.

James Cryan, chief executive officer of the Rocky Mountain Prep charter school network in Colorado, helped organize a statement from more than 90 principals there advocating for DACA to continue.

Rescinding DACA, he said, would be “a slap” at the promise schools make to their students to “do everything we can to make you successful in college and in life.”

Dilan Pedraza, 23, is in his second year teaching English to eighth-graders in Richmond, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Besides being able to connect with undocumented kids, Pedraza said DACA teachers could also show a high degree of empathy for low-income students.

“We know how it feels to be scared, how it feels to think you can’t trust your next-door neighbor,” Pedraza said.

If Trump decides to curtail the program, it is unclear whether it would immediately terminate for all recipients, or if their work authorizations would continue until they expire.

Rocha’s DACA authorization ends in 2019, and she can then apply to renew it if the program still exists in its current form. If she has to leave her classroom in the middle of the year, she said she would try to explain her departure with concepts her students can understand.

“I lost my right to work because the law was taken away,” she said, “I have to follow the rules and the law because if you don’t, then something worse would happen.

“You have to respect the rules. We always emphasize respect.”