Washington • A former Utah teacher who now heads the nation’s largest union said Friday that President Donald Trump is scaring children to tears across the country.
Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, said Trump’s comments about Muslims, Mexicans and transgender people have left educators trying to calm students who are frightened for their lives and futures.
“We are facing a reckless, irresponsible administration that creates chaos and confusion — which is bad,” Eskelsen Garcia told the National Press Club. “But [Trump] does something worse: He creates fear in children. And that is unforgivable. For the first time in our country’s history — and I’ve talked to these teachers — we have had to comfort crying children because they are afraid of their president.”
That includes comforting girls wearing hijabs or children named Mohammed, Alfredo and Juanita, as well as transgender children who just want to use the restroom, Eskelsen Garcia said.
Eskelsen Garcia, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress from Utah as a Democrat nearly 20 years ago, zeroed in specifically on Trump’s decision this week to phase out the Obama-era program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA had opened the door to education and employment for hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the country as children by undocumented parents.
“Donald Trump is playing games with the lives of 800,000 young people, and he risks nothing,” Eskelsen Garcia said, adding that she hoped Congress could come up with a solution before the program ends in six months.
Trump tweeted earlier this week that DACA participants “have nothing to worry about.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the decision as a way to bring the country “closer to a safer, fairer and legal immigration system” and called on Congress to pass legislation to deal with the immigrants affected by the changes.
Overall, the NEA president said she didn’t trust the Trump administration and worries it will “destroy the brightest jewel” in America’s crown, “the public school.”
“Our plan is to do something about that,” she said, “to fight for a public school that is worthy of our children.”
Circling back to her warning of how schoolchildren were afraid of Trump, Eskelsen Garcia said she hoped it wouldn’t lead immigrant students worried about deportation to stay home from school, where teachers are their front line of protection.
“Whatever they decide [on DACA],”she said, ”they will have to come through us first to get to those students.”