Remarks given by President of the Durham Association of Educators, Bryan Proffitt, during a press conference calling for the release of Wildin Acosta, a young immigrant facing deportation. For more information on how to support contact Alerta Migratoria NC.
My name is Bryan Proffitt, and I’m an 11-year veteran high school history teacher, currently serving as the President of the Durham Association of Educators, a local affiliate of the National Education Association. As the classroom teacher on this phone call, it is impossible for me to relate to this issue abstractly. When I heard about ICE’s kidnapping of Wildin Acosta, I thought about Heidi, who stayed after school to teach me Spanish. I thought about Helen who came into my classroom, quiet and timid with almost no working English vocabulary, and consistently completed every task I gave her in two languages. I thought about Ana, one of the most gifted students I ever taught, whose undocumented status prevented her from access to the state’s public university system. I thought about the inevitable terror that 11 years worth of my students would be experiencing when they heard the news, and it broke my heart and compelled me to see how our union could respond at local, statewide, and national levels.
Public schools have real enemies. They are privatizers and corporate reformers. They are not immigrant students. We are fighting for the very existence of public schools in this country. Every day, heroic educators practice our craft in overcrowded and under resourced classrooms full of students that we love. Every day, we work long hours to support our students’ dreams and futures despite the constant efforts of privatizers to shame our schools and blame educators for the problems this country faces. And every day, we sacrifice our extra hours and our own resources to ensure that our students have what they need to have happy, stable, and healthy futures. Immigrant students are not the cause of our problems. Heidi, Helen, and Ana are not threats to our schools. Neither is Wildin. Like all of our students, they bring us joy and challenge and infinite reward. We refuse to stand by and allow them to be painted as the enemies of our communities and our schools. They are our kids, and we love them and feel responsible for them.
We also feel responsible for ensuring that our students leave our schools learning the right lessons. These raids teach our kids the wrong things. Young people are naturally open-hearted, accepting, and curious. Those traits bring us joy and hope every single day. My favorite part of my new job is spending time in elementary schools where I watch young people work together and build friendships across social barriers of race and nationality and class in ways that very few adults practice in this country. Educators work to nurture and facilitate the growth of these characteristics, because they represent the best possibilities for humanity and the future of our communities. When immigrant students, or Black students, or gay students, or students with disabilities face public policies and practices and messages that label them and their families as problems or threats, they struggle to maintain a positive self-esteem and their mental and physical health suffers. They struggle to reach their fullest potential. I’ve watched it happen again and again, and I have to ask the question—what lessons are they learning about themselves? When other students hear that their classmates represent an “internal threat to the security of the United States,” they become fearful and close themselves off, creating tension in our classrooms. What lessons are they learning about each other? We are speaking out against the labelling of immigrant students as dangers in our communities because it damages the self-esteem of some of our students and teaches others that it is okay to mistrust and mistreat one another. We teach our students to love themselves and support one another in our classrooms, and we reject policies and practices that undermine our role as educators.
And finally, we are speaking out against the kidnapping and detention of our students because it prevents us from doing our jobs. We cannot teach kids who are sitting in jail cells. We cannot teach kids who are traumatized by the disappearance of their friends on the way to school. And we cannot teach kids who live in constant fear that their families will be split up and put in harm’s way. ICE’s detention of Wildin’s has sent a chill through our classrooms. Students aren’t showing up for class. Students can’t focus through the trauma and fear that they are experiencing. And families are hesitating to even register their kids for school because they fear that the school system might share their information with La Migra. This has to end.
For 11 years, I was expected to call home any time a student of mine missed a significant amount of class. It was my job to let my students know that I cared, find out what the barriers to their success were, and help them and their families navigate them. Wildin Acosta and the other detained students have missed too much class, and we, as their teachers, are calling ICE to end their detention and let them come back to us and their classrooms, where they belong.