My first year in the United States was not easy. I came to Texas with my family undocumented at age 5, didn’t speak English, and had to repeat kindergarten. Luckily, I had a bilingual teacher my second year of kindergarten, who helped me become fluent in English.

After that, my family moved from Dallas to San Antonio, where I began to excel. I graduated high school in the top 3 percent of my class, and received a full scholarship to attend San Antonio College and then Texas A&M. Today, I’m a bilingual teacher in a kindergarten classroom, where I’m able to give my Spanish-speaking students the support I didn’t have in school.

But I was only able to realize my dream of becoming a teacher because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy (DACA), which protects Dreamers like me from deportation. Unfortunately, my future is now uncertain.

President Trump’s attempt to end DACA reached the Supreme Court last month and put the lives of 700,000 DACA recipients in the hands of nine justices. If the court rules against us, we could lose our work authorization and be deported to countries we barely remember. I’d have to leave my job at IDEA Harvey E. Najim charter school, and instead of supporting the next generation – and teaching them valuable linguistic skills – I’ll be forced to retreat into the shadows.

This would be devastating not only to thousands of families across the U.S., but to the state of Texas. We have the second-highest number of DACA-eligible residents in the country, including approximately 2,000 teachers with DACA status. Losing these educators would exacerbate the chronic shortage of teachers in Texas, particularly bilingual teachers.

There are nearly 1 million Texas students who require bilingual support. And with some 80,000 new students entering the Texas public school system each year, that number is only growing. Meanwhile, our state has seen a 16 percent drop in the number of new teacher certifications since 2009.

In addition to the loss of valuable teachers, ending DACA has economic consequences for the state. DACA-eligible residents in Texas earned $3.5 billion in household income in 2017, according to New American Economy (NAE) and paid $596.2 million in tax revenue. Most of us – over 93 percent of the state’s DACA-eligible population – were employed that year.

I didn’t know I was undocumented until I was in the sixth grade. Teachers seemed to look at me and treat me differently, which prompted me to ask my mom about our background. But learning this only made me work harder. In 5th grade, my mom separated from my dad and began raising five children on her own, working multiple jobs to support us. At age 15, I started pitching in, working after school and weekends at a Mexican restaurant. 

In high school, I was a member of the National Honor Society, president of the Spanish Honor Society, and the vice president of the Texas Association for Future Educators. I was the first in my family to apply to college, which was a daunting process. My guidance counselor had never encountered an undocumented student before. I had to figure it out on my own, which taught me perseverance. I now know I can achieve whatever I put my mind to.

Today in my kindergarten classroom, I try to make all my students feel safe, supported, and empowered to achieve their dreams. I’ve learned that growing up bilingual in the United States is a tremendous asset. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of online job listings for bilingual workers rose by 15.7 percent, according to an NAE report. That skill will create tremendous opportunity for my bilingual students in the future and it will ultimately strengthen the American economy, which depends on worldly professionals to stay competitive.

Teaching is my passion. This year, I’m honored to have been nominated as an instruction coach, assisting new teachers with classroom instruction and developing lesson plans. The idea that President Trump’s policies could prevent me from working a job I love, where I help dozens of students a year, is heartbreaking. We can’t afford to wait for the Supreme Court’s decision. It’s time for Congress to step in and provide a pathway toward citizenship for Dreamers. It’s like I tell my students: “There might be obstacles along the way, but together, and with perseverance, we can rise above them.”

Cristina Tovar

Cristina Tovar is a bilingual kindergarten teacher at IDEA Public Schools.