January 8, 2020 / MassLive
While Boston Mayor Marty Walsh celebrated Boston as a city of immigrants throughout his State of the City address, advocates have raised concerns that the school system is exposing foreign-born students to federal immigration authorities.
But Walsh pushed back against those criticisms Tuesday night.
“Boston Public Schools is not passing information to ICE on status and immigration. We don’t do that. That’s not what we do," Walsh told reporters after his address. "We’re not immigration police.”
Immigration advocates and city officials are clashing over what it means to collaborate with ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Walsh and school officials have repeatedly said they don’t share information with the federal agency, while advocates argue that sending incident reports involving students to a regional database that ICE agents can mine puts schoolchildren at risk of deportation for even minor scuffles.
Advocates across the country have raised concerns about school data being shared with immigration authorities. In Houston, a high school student named Dennis Rivera-Sarmiento said he was arrested by ICE after defending himself against another student’s attack. The student had called him a “wetback” before throwing a Gatorade bottle at him, and he pushed her, according to The New York Times.
In March 2018, an East Boston High School student named Orlando was arrested by ICE agents after a school resource officer shared a report about a lunchroom scuffle with the Boston Regional Information Center, an information-sharing network created in 2005 with the goal of reducing crime and preventing terrorism. Orlando, who was accused of being involved in a gang, deported to El Salvador.
His attorney, Sarah Sherman-Stokes, referred to him by his middle name only because young men are often recruited, attacked or extorted by armed gangs in the Central American nation.
“The idea that these gang allegations was the result of a school incident report of a verbal altercation in the cafeteria and a thirdhand rumor of a high school student, it’s sort of unbelievable," said Sarah Sherman-Stokes, who represented Orlando at the time. "High school students are not really reliable historians, and the fact that those allegations became the basis of essentially Orlando’s deportation was really astounding.”
Under its own federal policy, ICE does not conduct business in schools, hospital or places of worship, which the agency considers “sensitive locations.” That does not stop federal agents from looking into records that name foreign-born students.
ICE has received information on more than 100 incident reports that have been shared with BRIC, ranging from students having sharp objects to altercations that were resolved within the school. Many of the reports came from East Boston High School.
“I’m a BPS parent. I’m disappointed on a personal and professional level,” Sherman-Stokes said.
After Orlando’s arrest, Boston Public Schools updated its policy on how school police officers share school safety reports with other law enforcement agencies, including BRIC. The policy directs school officers not to share School Safety Reports with any outside agencies, including BRIC, except when the Boston Police Department School Unit investigates possible criminal activity.
Officials would need approval from the Boston School Police chief to share any other school safety report with another agency.
The school district continued to review its policies this year, including developing new protocols for approving report sharing. School officials did not say what those protocols look like. The school district is also reviewing its memorandum of understanding with the Boston Police Department, which was last updated in the 1990s.
Still, Lawyers for Civil Rights raised concerns about the student incident reports it received through its lawsuit against the city.
“Students need to feel safe in school, and when there is any possibility that ICE will be involved, that violates that principle,” said Janelle Dempsey, an attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights.
Walsh said school and city officers have undergone and continue to undergo training on how to handle school reports.
He said the recent update to the Trust Act helps limits what city police can share with federal immigration authorities.
Walsh’s State of the City program gave a nod to immigrants who call Boston home. One of the residents who introduced Walsh, Angel Castillo Pineda, shared how he immigrated from Guatemala and enrolled at East Boston High School. He touted the mayor’s High School to Teacher program, saying he plans to become an English as a Second Language teacher.
When Walsh got on stage, he said the address is about all the people of Boston.
“I believe in Boston because this city made my immigrant family’s dream come true,” he said. “My vision, my passion, what I work for every day, is for Boston to be that city of dreams for every child, every worker, every senior and every single person who calls our city home.”
After his address, Walsh told reporters school and city officers continue to undergo training on how to handle student incident reports. He said the recent update to the Trust Act helps limits what city police can share with federal immigration authorities and challenged the criticisms against Boston Public Schools.
“I think it’s very clear where I stand on immigrants and immigration since I’ve been mayor in 2014,” he said. “In 2016, when [Donald] Trump became the president, I drew a line in the sand. I’m going to continue to defend our immigrants, whether they’re documented or undocumented.”
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