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Teachers Union Boss Tells Critics to ‘Meet Me Behind the School’

WASHINGTON – National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia said she is “afraid” that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, or DREAMers, will “hide” and not come to school after President Trump announced the repeal of DACA last week.

“He cruelly said, ‘Don’t worry, be happy. Congress can fix it, no big deal.’ Donald Trump is playing games with the lives of 800,000 young people and he himself risks nothing. These undocumented young people were brought here as children. They graduated from high school. They have no criminal record. They're young people who did not make the decision to come. They followed their parents. They applied and were granted protected status because of their special circumstances. DACA allowed them to get a driver’s license, to go to work, to go to college, to serve their country in the military,” Garcia said Friday during a National Press Club headliners luncheon in Washington.

“DACA is an unqualified success on every level. It’s humane, it’s just, it’s pumping billions of dollars into our economy to have educated, hard-working, enthusiastic young people paying taxes, buying homes, working, studying, starting their own businesses. They’re our students and we want to comfort them but it’s so hard to tell them that the president can't hurt them. They know the truth,” he added.

Garcia was asked if she thinks DREAMers would “stop showing up at school for fear of being pursued by immigration.”

“Yes. I'm always afraid that someone who is afraid will hide and it would be foolish of me to tell those students that they have nothing to fear. They have everything to fear, and this is the time that we have to be fearless. Them staying home will not solve their problem. Hiding will not solve their problem, but I understand a parent that would say, ‘I'm worried.’ I understand a college student who might say, ‘Someone knows where I live now. Someone knows where my family lives now,’” she said.

“Of course they're going to be frightened. But we have to stand with them and we have to be arm-in-arm so that they know they're not alone,” she added. “It's got to be their decision, their family’s decision. But whatever they decide, they will have to come through us first to get to those students.”

Garcia was also asked for her response to people who “accuse teachers unions of only being interested in protecting the system as opposed to individual students.”

“I can tell you the names of my individual students one by one, hundreds and hundreds over the years. I've got pictures of all of them. Let me see my pictures. I would think that was a set-up question but my NEA team said, ‘Oh, it’s too bad you don’t have pictures of that party.’ I’ve got pictures of everything and these kids are a lot older now but these are my babies. I took these pictures,” she said.

“And so whenever someone wants to denigrate teachers who actually organize themselves to have the collective power that we need to have our voice heard, and they say we don’t care about the children, I want to know if those folks can tell me the names of the children that they love that don’t live in their house because I can – and I'm the president of the NEA,” she added

Garcia challenged critics of public school unions to meet her "behind the school.”

“We do what we do because we love our students and we honor our profession. And so, I would challenge anyone personally to meet me behind the school and talk to me about what I fought for all my life, what I fought for – my babies – because they can't touch that,” she said.

Garcia condemned the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the education budget as well as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ support for school vouchers.

“There was one thing that they added, there was one thing they pumped millions of dollars into – a brand new, shiny, multimillion-dollar federal program for vouchers for private schools. Instead of investing and improving the public schools where 90 percent of our students go, she continues with the career that she's made diverting scarce resources to fund private schools. So no, we do not turn to the Department of Education,” she said. “NEA and those three million members will do something about it. We’ll fight this agenda to take resources away from our students, to frighten our students – [it] will not ever be acceptable to us and that's probably obvious.”