Originally published by KOAT
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
The President announced the program will end in March, leaving thousands of undocumented immigrants at risk for deportation.
Ivonne Orozco is New Mexico’s 2018 Teacher of the Year. She has been a Spanish teacher at the Public Academy for the Performing Arts in Albuquerque for four years.
Orozco is at risk of losing her DACA status.
When did you arrive in the United States?
I came to the United States when I was 12, so I was in the seventh grade. I remember when we came in November. It was cold, and the very next day it snowed and that snow was like something I had never seen before. When I saw that snow, I went out and we played and we made a snowman. I remember thinking, ‘Even the snow is better here.’ It was that feeling of, ‘This is going to be good.’
What was school like for you growing up?
I always worked really hard. I was part of National Honor Society, I was editor for my yearbook, I ran cross country and track. I was always very involved.
Teachers were involved every step of the way, teaching me that it was OK to learn. Teaching me that it was OK to struggle with language, and that it was okay to ask questions.
I attended the University of New Mexico, the first person in my family to attend college.
I wanted to be a good student and that is something that I feel O always did really well. I always worked really hard, I always studied. I stayed out of trouble. I worked really hard. I graduated with honors with my degree in education.
How did DACA impact you?
DACA was announced in 2012. It was my junior year of college. I couldn’t believe it was true, and I didn’t apply right away. I waited until my other friends had gotten their permits.
I was very unsure, and I was very hesitant. I was very scared to put all of my information down, including where I’ve lived for the past 10 years. It was really, really hard of going through that process of saying, ‘I’m here,’ and making that known.
If I hadn’t had DACA, I would’ve been one of the many students who before DACA were graduating with college degrees and not able to work in their field.
Why did you reveal your DACA status?
I wasn’t very vocal about my DACA status until September, when it was canceled. That announcement was so terrifying. I remember how terrifying it was to read that and at the time I didn’t know what that meant. I had so many questions.
With the teacher shortage, what that means for all of our schools. Schools in New Mexico and schools nationwide.
More than 9,000 DACA recipients are teachers. There is this need and there is this shortage. It doesn’t make any sense.
How does it feel to be New Mexico’s Teacher of the Year?
I’m so honored, so proud to be a voice and so scared when I go home. So scared when I am here thinking about it.
We (DACA recipients) are teachers, doctors, nurses and social workers, and we are giving back every single day.
What is your biggest fear right now?
I think a lot of the fear is not knowing, and it comes from a lot of uncertainty and I think most immigrants feel that way. They don’t know what is going to be announced.
How do you feel about the possibility of leaving your students?
My students have been very supportive about the story. A lot of my students have asked a lot of questions about what it means.
I am really hoping that doesn’t have to be the case. That is worst-case scenario. I am remaining very hopeful that there is good work being done by Congress. I have faith that Congress is going to do right by us.
What is your reaction to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s comments calling some undocumented immigrants lazy because they did not apply for DACA?
That just makes me think that there is an overwhelming lack of empathy, and an overwhelming sense of privilege not knowing how hard it is to write down all of your information and then send that in. It is so scary.
It’s just so upsetting when people don’t understand that we are real people with real feelings, and real hesitations and always weighing the possible outcomes. I just think there needs to be more conversations about what this means for our communities, and more voices need to be heard.
Many people ask why don’t you apply for citizenship?
It is so difficult to go through the system. It is a systematic problem that our community is facing. People have said that to me, and what we want is exactly that. We want a solution that allows us to have a path to citizenship. We want a permanent solution. That is the thing we want the most. We wish it was just a line to go and line up because we would do that.