A California teacher’s offer to house students whose parents have been deported has gone viral as the Trump administration weighs whether to move forward with its planned deportation raids.
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James Tilton, a high school English and creative writing teacher in Lancaster, California, took to Twitter earlier this month to remind his students of an offer he has made to them in the classroom many times.
“My wife and I are foster certified and have an extra room if your parents are deported and you need a place to stay,” Tilton wrote, in part.
Students, I know I've talked to some of you about this and mentioned it in class. But, in light of recent statements from the President, it feels worth repeating: my wife and I are foster certified and have an extra room if your parents are deported and you need a place to stay. pic.twitter.com/TyK5ITZJMx— James M. Tilton (@JamesMTilton) June 18, 2019
Tilton, 30, and his wife, Amy, were motivated to help after one of Tilton’s students came to him crying last year because her mom had been deported. That student had a place to stay, but Tilton said their conversation gave him a deeper understanding of what some of his students are going through.
“It got me thinking about what it would look like for a kid who is allowed to stay here but his or her parents aren’t,” he told “Good Morning America.” “I talked to my wife and we took the steps to make sure our home was available if a student would need it.”
The high school where Tilton has taught for the past six years has a majority Hispanic population and is a Title 1 school, meaning it has a large concentrations of low-income students, according to Tilton. Some of the school's students, like Diana, who was a student in Tilton's freshman English class, are undocumented.
"There have been several times where if something came on the news or if we heard of ICE checkpoints and my dad hadn’t been home from work yet, there was a lot of fear," said Diana, who asked that her last name not be used for fear of drawing public attention to her immigration status.
"I always went to Mr. Tilton’s class and would tell him about my fears because I couldn’t talk to my parents because I didn’t want to stress them even more," she said. "He would always listen and be really supportive."
Diana, now 18, graduated from high school earlier this year and is pursuing a college degree to become a teacher -- inspired, she said, by Tilton. She described the fear she and other undocumented students live in and how actions like the one taken by Tilton help them get through.
Approximately 98,000 unauthorized immigrants graduate from U.S. high schools every year, according to an estimate from the Migration Policy Institute, a non-profit organization that "seeks to improve immigration and integration policies," according to its website.
"It was really important to us because we’re so used to being dehumanized in the media," she said. "You don’t ever hear like, 'This undocumented person just graduated from [University of California] Berkeley,' like my friend just did. It’s always, 'These illegals are committing crimes.'"
"You hear that all the time and it tears down at you," added Diana, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico at age 2. "To have a teacher tell us that we are important and our safety and well-being is important, his offering of the room was like a physical manifestation of the space we already took up in his heart."
Tilton's tweet offering a room in his home quickly went viral. Attention on it has continued to grow as President Trump threatened a mass deportation of undocumented immigrants and as the conditions at some immigrant holding centers for children are compared to "torture facilities."
"I hope [my tweet] is focusing attention on the very real human people behind our country’s immigration policies," Tilton said. "If this is the thing that causes [people] to realize that the people who are in cages, the people who are being deported and dealing with deportations are human, I wish it would have happened earlier, but I’m glad that it’s happening at all."
Tilton said he realizes not everyone can open a room in their home, but he hopes people don't just read his tweet but take action after seeing it. He also deflects any of the praise he's received for stepping up to help.
"I’ve heard people say this is a heartwarming story but the reality is if you know the very human students I work with on a daily basis and saw the fear from those students, I don’t think your heart would be warm," he said. "I think your heart would be broken. I know mine is."
Tilton also noted that he and his wife have not yet had a student stay with them, and he hopes it stays that way.
"I hope that room stays empty," he said. "If a student ever comes in there it will be on the worst day of their life and they deserve to be with their parents."