It’s a new school year and our classrooms at the Portland Public Schools – Maine’s largest and most diverse school district – are filled with “dreamers.” I consider all our students to be dreamers because they all want to achieve the American Dream of getting a good education that prepares them for success in college and career. Our school district strives to encourage, nurture and support the future dreams of all our students, regardless of their immigration status.
Recent events – such as the racist-inspired violence in Charlottesville and the decision to end the federal “Dreamers” program that allows undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children to continue to live, work and study here – make this a good time to reaffirm the Portland Public Schools’ values.
At the Portland Public Schools, we recognize that our diversity is our greatest strength. For that reason, it is important for all of us to celebrate, respect and honor our differences, promote practices that advance inclusion, and affirm our commitment to equity and social justice as part of the Portland Public Schools experience. We affirm that no one in our school community should fear for their safety because of their country of origin, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion – or immigration status.
This past March, the Portland Board of Public Education passed a resolution underscoring that our district is a safe and welcoming community for all.
The board’s Resolution Affirming its Commitment to the Education of All Children & Making Portland Public Schools a Safe Haven for Students and Families stresses that our district is committed to following a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that no public school district can deny students an education based on their immigration status.
The resolution states: “The Board declares Portland Public Schools to be a safe haven for students and families threatened by immigration enforcement or discrimination, to the fullest extent permitted by law.”
This also is the time of year to recognize and celebrate the contributions, heritage and culture of Hispanic Americans during National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Hispanics and Latinos constitute the second- largest racial or ethnic group in the U.S.
They also account for the vast majority of Dreamers – recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. That 2012 program has allowed nearly 800,000 people to live and work in the U.S. without fearing deportation. Now, Washington plans to stop renewing DACA work permits. The program ends in March unless Congress enacts a legislative solution.
Nearly 80 percent of Dreamers come from Mexico, a country right on our border. Those Dreamers included a young man who recently gave his life while trying to save fellow Texans from the floods caused by Hurricane Harvey. News reports say Alonso Guillén, 31, a radio station host, died when his rescue boat struck a bridge, throwing him into the flood waters. Guillén had been in the U.S. since he was 15.
As Maine Sen. Susan Collins recently tweeted, Dreamers were brought to the U.S. as children and, in many cases, know only our country as home. Collins says Congress must act quickly to protect the Dreamers. I agree.
The Dreamers’ dilemma resonates with me because I was brought here as a child from Cuba. My family had to leave our homeland because of Castro. We were fortunate to enter the U.S. legally. However, as a 2-year-old, I had no say in the decision to become an immigrant, just like the Dreamers of today.
When my family came from Cuba, this country welcomed us with open arms. We’ve worked hard to repay that welcome. Dreamers also study and work hard. Their professions include being teachers and nurses, business owners and employees of Fortune 500 companies, and they also serve in our military. Dreamers are valuable and productive members of our society. Alonso Guillén serves as just one example of their contributions to this nation.
Our district’s policies, values and commitments require us to stand up against those who would intimidate and exclude, rather than nurture and include. This is what we believe; this is what we teach; this is what we defend.
Xavier Botana is superintendent of the Portland Public Schools. He can be reached at email@example.com.