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DACA Enables Aspiring ESL Teacher from El Salvador to Serve Her Community

At seven, Kenia Lopez came to Harrisonburg from El Salvador—and met her father for the first time. He had left before Lopez was born to help provide for the family. “We had no money to eat, or buy milk,” she said. “He wanted to give me a better future.”

In 2005, Lopez joined him in Virginia. Today, her father works at a soup factory and her mother has spent 18 years at a poultry plant. Lopez is deeply involved in the community. She volunteers with her church’s #KidsForChrist program and is a certified medical interpreter at Sentara RMH Medical Center. She also enrolls preschoolers and kindergarteners for Harrisonburg City Public Schools.

As an immigrant, Lopez knows how much anxiety comes with starting a new school, so she brings a unique empathy to her HCPS position. “I feel like I can help parents a lot,” she says. “If they ever have any questions, I tell them to call me.”

“All of us with DACA are working and striving to help people of all races in our communities. We want to give back.”

Eventually, Lopez wants to make similar contributions in the classroom. She is a part-time student at Blue Ridge Community College but hopes to transfer to a four-year college, and get a degree in education. She would love to teach ESL. “An ESL teacher helped me when I was new to this country and was very scared,” she says. “I want to help other students in the same way.”

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allows Lopez to work legally. But if the current administration succeeds in cancelling DACA, she would face a difficult road. She would be forced to quit her jobs and would not be able to pay tuition. She would also be subject to deportation. Harrisonburg could lose a talented, giving young woman.

“All of us with DACA are working and striving to help people of all races in our communities,” she says. “We want to give back.”

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New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…