12/16/2014 04:46 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2015

A Call to Action -- Expanded DACA Eligibility

Teach For America believes in the dignity and potential of every child. President Obama's announcement last month on expanded eligibility of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to more young adults makes the aspiration of a college degree and a career possible for many more. For David Liendo, a first year Teach For America corps member in Denver, Colorado, having a DACA status meant he could achieve his dream of becoming a teacher. David is already starting to see the impact he is having on his students. With a smile on his face, he reads the note from one of his students that says "you had a purpose in life, and that was to come into our lives and make a difference."

Last year, Teach For America made a commitment to recruit and support teachers with DACA status. Since then, more than 40 DACAmented teachers have joined our program and are currently teaching in cities throughout the country. We are proud to lead the efforts by creating a pathway for undocumented college graduates to join the teaching profession and become role models for students and families alike.

Navigating the complexities and nuances of DACA has not been easy. We are learning every day, and the most important thing we're learning is that we have an opportunity to show the power of what some of our best role models can accomplish when they're in front of children who are following in their path.

Opening up teaching opportunities for DACA recipients to join the teaching profession is not a road well-traveled. Sadly, there are limited opportunities for our students who are DACA recipients to join the professional work force. In part, due to the lack of awareness and understanding that exist about undocumented students and DACA.

As we continue to break ground by actively recruiting DACA recipients, we recognize the need for more of us to do this work. Through our recruitment efforts, we continue to be inspired by the number of DACA recipients who are interested in becoming teachers. With the support of both national and local immigrant organizations in communities and on campuses, more undocumented individuals with DACA status know about the opportunities that exist to pursue a teaching career.

Furthermore, our approach to selecting corps members is grounded in our commitment to student success. Each decision is grounded in more than a decade of research to understand the characteristics of corps members whose students make the most progress. For each candidate, we strive to understand her or his unique accomplishments, strengths and growth areas. Since opening admission to DACA recipients, we've learned a lot about how to evaluate the characteristics we evaluate with all candidates with DACA recipients given the unique challenges they often face in their pursuit of a college degree (e.g., ineligible for financial aid or work study jobs, unable to participate in extracurricular activities, etc.). For all candidates, we want to ensure we're assessing the characteristics we've found in our most successful teachers, not access to opportunities.

While we are proud of the significant investment in DACA recipients, we recognize there is still a long way to go, and we need more of you to provide pathways to opportunities, especially in teaching. The reality is that, even with a social security number and a work permit, many of these talented individuals who have college degrees, are not able to find a job.

For the 1.8 million undocumented youth in our classrooms, we need more than 40 DACAmented teachers who can mirror the experiences of their students. While we believe all teachers can have an impact on kids, it is critical that more people like David, who share their backgrounds of our students, step up and take on the courageous and noble work of being a teacher and a powerful role model for what our children can achieve.