Teacher -- and DACA recipient -- helps students grapple with realities of immigration

Dreamer teacher on immigration

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Ivonne Orozco, 27, teaches Spanish at the Public Academy for Performing Arts High School in Albuquerque and was recently named Teacher of the Year. She was also brought into the U.S. illegally by her parents from Mexico when she was 12.

Orozco is a DACA recipient, and will be a guest of New Mexico Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich at the State of the Union. She's one of close to 9,000 undocumented teachers working across the United States, and talking about immigration is sometimes part of the lesson plan.

"You know, most of what we do in the classroom is very academic," Orozco said. "It's not an everyday thing, but when they do happen I like to make sure that we do have a safe space where students can express all the things that they carry in their hearts."

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Ivonne Orozco is a teacher, and a Dreamer. CBS News

We joined Orozco's 6th period class to see what that looks like.

"We are going to focus on the topic of immigration in our community today," Orozco told her students. "How does it affect your everyday life? What does it look like for you personally?"

"When I was younger, I didn't really recognize immigration as a very big issue," said one student. "I saw it very black and white. I was like, 'Oh, that's illegal.'"

"Well, I'm an immigrant myself," another student said. "Next month, I'm going to have to miss school for like, I don't even know how long because I'm in the process of being a citizen, so I'm going to have to like go to Mexico and do an interview and stuff, and basically I have to wait there until they like approve so I can come back."

"It's really stressful because I consider my friends as family, and knowing that they can be taken from school or home like scares me," another student said.

Some students talked about how deportation has impacted their families.

"My mom and my dad were being threatened of getting deported. I remember my mom, she came up to me and she said, 'Could you write a letter on the back of this saying how much you want us to be a family?' And at the time I didn't know what it was going to be used for, but I did it anyway, but no, it was like for a court, and she wanted to show it to the court and be like, 'Please don't break up my family,'" one said. "Now when I look back on it, it's really hard thinking how close I could have been to losing both of my parents."

"Around this time last year, my own father was deported," another student shared. "It was the worst thing in the world to see, to be at the airport when he had to leave. He now lives in, he lives in Monterey with his parents, and I haven't been able to see them in two years. It's just really hard to know that other people around me can be taken as easily as he was, especially my own teacher."

"I just want to say that the space that you guys have created in this class, I just so appreciate it," Orozco added at the end of the emotional discussion.

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Ivonne Orozco talks with students about immigration CBS News

We asked Orozco about what parents might think.

"The parents here at my school have been incredibly supportive," she said. "Often, teachers are seen as people who should be, you know, objective and only here for the academics, right? My classroom is a space where students can freely express themselves and also explore all these really hot topic issues."

As for people who would argue that some immigrants might not be in the best interest of the country, Orozco said she finds most people that are working as immigrants are "contributing to their communities."

"We are teachers. We are doctors. We are the people that are giving back to our communities every single day."