By Jack Orloff
Joyful tears ran down Karen Reyes's face as she called her mother on May 14. She had just talked with President Joe Biden alongside five other individuals like herself — recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
"Walking out of that space, I immediately called my mom and burst into tears because this is a space that is not designed for undocumented immigrants like me," Reyes said. "But we were there and shared our stories. To have a sitting President hear us and also feel our stories was just so powerful."
Reyes and five other DACA recipients were invited by President Joe Biden to the Oval Office to discuss the program and immigration reform as well as share personal stories.
Reyes is a DACA recipient who has worked for the district for seven years. She teaches deaf and hard of hearing students in Kindergarten and 1st grade at Galindo Elementary School in Austin.
Reyes immigrated with her mother from Mexico 30 years ago to San Antonio. She lived a relatively normal childhood, not knowing about her family’s status until high school.
"I wanted to go on a spring break trip with my friends, and my mother told me I couldn't go because I didn't have any papers," she said.
She quickly realized that her life would have obstacles that others might not face.
"Starting from not being able to get a learner’s permit to be able to drive, to not being able to apply to colleges because I didn't have a social security number, there were all these fears and obstacles," she said.
However, Reyes did not let her fears stop her. She became a teacher and began to advocate for immigration reform in her community.
"There came a point where I thought to myself, ‘If I'm scared, what are my students and my families feeling? If I can do something to fight for human rights for immigrants, and to help folks, I should,’" she said
Reyes joined organizations that fought for immigration reform.
"I started to get involved with United We Dream and my teacher's union Education Austin. I would help organize and conduct Know Your Rights training, citizenship drives and just trying to do all this important work,” Reyes said. “But I never imagined it would end up with me going to the Oval Office and speaking with the President because, in my mind, this is about people, my community and helping my community."
Reyes hopes that her visit and her continued passion for immigration reform will help get Congress to pass the Dream and Promise Act.
"As a teacher, I feel like I have a moral obligation to help others, to fight for justice, to fight for the rights of my students and our community," Reyes said. "I think there really is a shift in rhetoric, and I am hopeful that we will get this done. We need Congress to act and pass the Dream and Promise Act. At the end of the day, we are all humans, and we deserve to be treated with dignity and respect."