Many of the kids cried when they heard the news about Carlo Barrera, a 27-year-old science teacher and soccer coach at the Speyer Legacy School, a private K-8 school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. My kids tell me that “Coach B” is one of the most beloved figures at Speyer — and it’s easy to see why. As he walks down the hallway, he has a hug or an encouraging word for everyone he meets. He radiates energy and enthusiasm. He is not just a teacher but also a mentor and friend. So why is he now forced to abandon a job he is so good at?
He told me his story after school one day in an empty classroom. He was brought to the United States from Mexico in 1999 when he was just 6 years old. His parents, both teachers, flew to Austin with him and his two siblings because, like countless immigrants before them, they were in search of opportunity. They didn’t have legal permission to be here; they simply overstayed their tourist visas. His dad worked two or three jobs at a time, including at a carpet-cleaning company, to support the family, and his parents had three more kids in the United States. Those kids were automatically U.S. citizens, and when one of Barrera’s sisters turned 21, she was able to sponsor her parents for green cards. But the same naturalization process could not extend to Carlo.
Barrera did well as a scholarship student in Catholic schools and at Kenyon College. But it was only when President Barack Obama issued his 2012 executive order protecting the dreamers from deportation that a bright future opened up for him. For the first time he was able to travel abroad and to work legally. An economics major, he was offered a job in the finance industry after graduating from college in 2015, but he decided it wasn’t for him. Instead, he went into teaching and in 2016 was hired by Speyer. “I fell in love with teaching,” he told me. The kids, in turn, fell in love with him.
The first inkling Barrera received that his future was in jeopardy came on Sept. 5, 2017, when President Trump rescinded the regulations that protect dreamers from deportation. “I remember just wanting to cry, scream, everything,” he wrote to Speyer parents. “I felt every emotion and as you can imagine, not a single one was positive. It was nearly impossible to finish out the day and focus on getting everything ready for the new school year, but I managed to pull myself together and power through it.” The next day, he was energized anew by seeing the “kids rush back into school and literally filling the hallway with joy and laughter.”
Trump’s attempt to deport the dreamers was challenged in court, and the case is currently before the Supreme Court. Barrera fears the conservative-majority court will rule against the dreamers, and that Republicans in the Senate will prevent the passage of a law to protect them. If so, it could leave him vulnerable to deportation.
So he got a summer internship at a fashion company in Los Angeles that has offices abroad. On Dec. 22, that firm offered him a job with the promise that, if can no longer work in the United States, he can move to one of its offices in Europe. His older brother also lives in Los Angeles, and Barrera wants to spend time with him before he is potentially kicked out of the country. The only catch was that he had to start right away.
Barrera told me that the day he told the whole school — Jan. 17 — that he was going to leave was “one of the toughest days of my life.” “It was pretty heartbreaking seeing the faces of the little kids. It’s really eating away at me,” he said, adding that the “outpouring of love” from parents and students has buoyed his spirits.
It’s not as though the United States has an overabundance of highly skilled, highly dedicated educators. We need all the great teachers we can get. Now, the teaching profession has lost a bright light because of the perverse xenophobia of the Trump administration. Barrera has met other dreamers who are doctors, lawyers and other successful professionals. It makes no sense, either as a matter of justice or economics, to evict them from a country they have come to call their own. Deporting the dreamers hurts not only them but the whole country. The House has already passed legislation protecting the dreamers. It’s imperative that the Senate follow suit.