New York Times
By Elizabeth A. Harris
March 7, 2017
In January, New York City’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, sent a letter home to students’ families, reassuring them that the city was not keeping records of their immigration status and that immigration agents would not be roaming schools unfettered.
But that has not kept the questions from coming, said Maite Junco, a senior adviser at the city’s Education Department.
School administrators and parents who are worried about the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants want “details on exactly how the process works,” Ms. Junco said. “In a circumstance where ICE shows up at the school,” she said, using the acronym for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “what is the minute-by-minute protocol almost.” Ms. Junco said the department is planning to circulate more detailed guidelines to schools in the coming days.
Across the region — and the country — education officials are facing a similar flood of questions from principals and frantic parents, especially in districts with large immigrant populations, some of whom are undocumented. In response, states have distributed letters to superintendents about asking for warrants and subpoenas from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Reminders have circulated that schools are never to ask families about their immigration status when they enroll their children. And districts have circulated memos about what to do if federal immigration officers show up at the schoolhouse door.
No such raids have been documented so far, and the Department of Homeland Security has declared schools off limits. But under the Trump administration, immigration policies have changed sharply and without much warning. Districts say they want to be prepared.
“If you’re sitting there in math class wondering if someone is going to burst through the door and pick you up, you’re not going to be learning math well,” said William Clark, chief operating officer of the New Haven Board of Education in Connecticut. “The kids should not be worried about this. They’re here to learn.”
For the moment, much of what school systems are offering is guidance, and whether it is written by the Connecticut public university system, the New York City Education Department, or the State of Virginia, many of the recommendations are similar. Schools often say student information must not be shared without a court order or subpoena. They instruct that if an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer comes looking for a student, the school officials should demand to see a warrant and review it carefully to find out what exactly it permits.
“The law does provide protections for students and there are limitations of what law enforcement can do,” said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York. “We’re doing our best to fill in the background and to tell them that students have a lot of rights.”
Many guidance documents also offer advice on how to prepare for raids that might happen outside school.
In a letter that the Chicago public school system sent to schools last month, one section is titled, “Children Left Stranded Because His/Her Parent Is Detained by ICE.” The first recommendation, a piece of advice shared by many districts, is that schools encourage parents to update their child’s emergency contact list and to include backups, like friends or relatives, to create a broader safety net.
Some localities are being proactive in other areas, as well. The New York City Education Department, which will give the SAT in schools on April 5, recently instructed schools not to have students fill out the Student Data Questionnaire that comes with the test. A department spokeswoman said the decision stemmed from concerns about student privacy, including immigration status. The survey asks for information like religion, family income and whether the student is a citizen.
State officials and activists in New York and Connecticut say they have heard some anecdotal reports of frightened parents keeping their children home from school, but so far, overall attendance levels have been normal.
Since 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has had a policy regarding what it calls “sensitive locations,” including schools, health care facilities and houses of worship, where enforcement actions “should generally be avoided,” according to Carissa Cutrell, a spokeswoman for the agency, which is under the Department of Homeland Security. She said the policy remains in effect.
“D.H.S. is committed to ensuring that people seeking to participate in activities or utilize services provided at any sensitive location are free to do so without fear or hesitation,” Ms. Cutrell said in an email.
The sensitive locations policy, however, is itself just guidance. Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said that it is “not something you can strictly enforce in court. But hopefully they’re going to follow it because they are saying they’re going to follow it.”
It is not just states and big cities that are trying to ensure schools are prepared. In Freeport, a village on New York’s Long Island, district officials sent letters home and met with school administrators to discuss protocols. And in Hartford, where 55 percent of the students are Latino, the acting superintendent, Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, said the district has met with principals twice on immigration issues, sent letters to schools and families, and even released videos in English and Spanish about district policies.
“As a Latina myself, this is personal,” Ms. Torres-Rodriguez said. “And on a personal level, I wanted to be very proactive.”
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