National Press Club

NEA president criticizes plan to end DACA, but hopes Congress will fix it

September 11, 2017 | By Lawrence Feinberg |

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, speaks at a National Press Club Headliners Luncheon on Sept. 8, 2017

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, speaks at a National Press Club Headliners Luncheon on Sept. 8, 2017

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the nation’s largest teachers’ union, denounced as “cruel, senseless, and unnecessary” the Trump administration’s plan to phase out an executive order by President Obama shielding young undocumented immigrants from deportation. But she said she is hopeful Congress will pass bipartisan legislation to protect them before a six-month deadline set by President Trump.

At a National Press Club Headliners Luncheon Sept. 8, Eskelsen Garcia, who heads the National Education Association (NEA), introduced Axel Herrera, a 20-year-old Duke University sophomore brought from Honduras to the U.S. illegally at age 7. “We know there are Republicans out there as well as Democrats who want to help children like Axel,” she said.

She said the extension of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) passed by a large bipartisan majority in 2015 was a “model of bringing people together….I do have hope there is a legislative solution.”

Under the Obama executive order, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), about 800,000 young adults have been protected from immediate deportation and allowed to work legally since 2012. The order applies to persons who entered the United States before their 16th birthday and have lived in the country continuously since June 2007. Supporters of the group have termed them Dreamers.

Eskelsen Garcia said the program “is an unqualified success on every level. It’s humane. It’s just. It’s pumping billions into our economy.” But she said “Donald Trump is playing games and risking 800,000 lives. For himself he risks nothing.”

The administration has said DACA amounts to an amnesty unsupported by legislation and that it has taken away jobs and pushed down wages for native-born workers.

But Eskelsen Garcia said that by planning to rescind it in March 2018 the administration has created “fear and confusion.” She said Trump has “forced teachers to comfort frightened children that the President can’t hurt them.”

Eskelsen Garcia also lashed out at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as “a woman who had zero experience in public schools.” She said the only funds DeVos and Trump added in their proposed education budget were for a voucher program “to divert scarce resources to fund private schools.” But she said she is pleased that the proposal has encountered substantial opposition in Congress and now seems “dead on arrival.”

In her remarks, Eskelsen Garcia praised the 2015 federal education act, which she said ended “13 horrible years under the No Child Left Untested,” the law formally titled No Child Left Behind. She said the NEA wants every school in each state to have the same resources and programs as the best public school in that state.

“These schools are not successful because of test prep,” she said. “These schools are good because they have highly trained professionals, they have technology that works…Usually they are in pretty nice neighborhoods. But they are living models of what can be done.”

She said NEA believes that “what works for the most advantaged students will work with all students.”

NEA members have been very involved in preparing state plans under the new law, she said. Even though she was highly critical of Secretary DeVos, Eskelen Garcia said that so far, the approval of state plans by her department has been “going along smoothly.”