by Amanda Menas
In a second grade classroom in Las Vegas, Angie Sullivan teaches a group of students, only three of whom are non-immigrants.
“The stories they come to school with,” said Sullivan, “are heartbreaking.”
Although her students are not personally targeted in raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, older siblings or parents have been detained or deported, separating the young students from their families and at risk of being sent back to countries they do not know.
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Although ICE policy does not allow arrests to be made in sensitive locations such as schools, there are special circumstances in which ICE will allow “enforcement action at or near sensitive locations if the only known address of a target is at or near a sensitive location,” including on the walk to school. This was exemplified when North Carolina high school student Wildin Acosta was detained on his way to school in January.
However, superintendents and local leaders are attempting to do their part and standing up for students to say, “All of us are deeply committed to providing instruction in a caring, safe and healthy learning environment that is responsive to each student.”
Arlington, Va., Superintendent Patrick Murphy wrote to parents last month, highlighting a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which held that students, regardless of their legal status, have a right to a public education because depriving them of that education “imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable for their disabling (undocumented) status.”
The school board of the nation’s second largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, voted unanimously last month to bar federal immigration agents from its campuses. Los Angeles Superintendent Michelle King, in a statement, said, “The District welcomes all students and all families and is committed to supporting their right to live, learn and work in their communities.”
Organizations such as the United We Dream Network and the National Education Association are working to advocate for undocumented minors and their families. A letter sent to Secretary Jeh Johnson of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, dated January 20, 2016, focused on the right to education for all immigrant students and families and on the trauma, anxiety and depressive symptoms caused by the enforcement actions.
The letter from United We Dream called on parents and educators to let their legislators and President Barack Obama’s administration know “the impact on the whole community.”
It takes trust and community healing for change to be made on a national scale, say student advocates. Educators are natural allies in developing that trust. “Teachers need to know their students,” Sullivan advised. “If a student is not outspoken, you don’t know if that is an issue for them.”