One of James Tilton's former students came to him last year when her mother was deported.
Tilton is a freshman English and creative writing teacher at Eastside High School in Lancaster, California, a school with a population composed of over 60% Hispanic and Latino students, according to data released this year.
"She wasn't sure where she was going to stay," he told USA TODAY.
He and his wife, Amy, offered up a spare bedroom to her for a little while, before she moved in with relatives. On Tuesday, Tilton extended the same offer to all his students – past and present – on Twitter and offered to foster them if their parents were deported.
It sounds like a feel-good story, but Tilton cautions that it shouldn't be. "It's an awful situation created by cruel policies and heartless politicians," he said.
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
"When I posted that picture, it was just to remind my undocumented students that I was there for them," he said. "I had hoped that it might make this terrifying situation a bit less scary."
The tweet went viral, amassing over 40,000 likes and resulting in a tidal wave of strangers asking him for help. Among those who messaged him: an undocumented girl whose father is in need of a kidney replacement and a pregnant teenager whose parents kicked her out.
The offer gained so much traction online that Tilton took to Twitter again, adding that he and his wife could only house current and former students. Her health issues, including chronic fatigue syndrome, make it difficult for them to offer more assistance.
But he's aided his students in other ways.
"I tried to help where I could – connecting people with programs or experts, helping with resumes, proofreading GoFundMe pages," he said. "I wish I could do more."
Tilton says that after Donald Trump was elected in 2016, he saw himself as an advocate for his students. He penned a letter that he read to all of his classes, which grew into contacting members of Congress on behalf of students and protesting side by side with them.
He hopes those who hear his story are inspired to take action. Becoming foster certified, donating to groups that support immigrants and volunteering as a legal advocate for undocumented children are among the actions Tilton suggests.
"Kindness toward our immigrant friends and family shouldn't be newsworthy. It should be normal, and I hate that we live in a country where that's not the case."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: A teacher opens his home to students with deported parents. The tweet went viral.