Student-led campaign inspires school board to pass strong ‘Safe Zone’ resolution


By David Sheridan, photo above courtesy Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association

Last week the Milwaukee School Board unanimously passed a resolution declaring the district a safe haven for students and families threatened by deportation and vowing to oppose the actions of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents “by all legal means available.” Milwaukee joins school districts around the country who have taken similar actions.

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Organized by Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES), an arm of the community-based Voces de la Frontera, the Milwaukee students drove a tireless organizing plan that included powerful personal story-telling. They spoke at school faculty meetings to enlist educator support. They met individually with each school board member. They wrote a petition calling for the protection immigrant students and families in public schools. Then they fanned out into the community to gather signatures, ultimately gaining more the 1,600. And using the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) office, the students created signs and a huge banner for their rallies and marches. They phoned supporters to ensure a big turnout for the meeting when the Board would consider the resolution.

It all worked—the School Board meeting room was packed. And student after student went to the microphone to tell the stories of their families fleeing homes, memories, and everything they knew, for a better life in the U.S. They told about the violence their families had escaped and the terrors they endured getting here.

“It was very hard for these students to tell their stories in public—many of them had never done so before,” says Cristal Tinajero, a high school student and YES activist. History teacher Berta Barillas agrees. “I urged students to look at Frederick Douglass and see how his telling of being a slave and then escaping from slavery made him all the more powerful.” And indeed, many of the YES students reported feeling empowered after they’d testified.

The resolution by the School Board:

  • Bars school staff, contractors, volunteers and representative from using district resources to aid in the arrest of person “whose only violation of the law” is that they are—or are suspected of—being undocumented.
  • Prohibits sharing a student’s or guardian’s immigration status, or other protected information, without a valid court order.
  • Established a protocol for steps to be taken if I.C.E. or its designee attempts to enter a school.

See where Safe Zone policies have passed around the country.

“Our fight for a sanctuary district is about children not being afraid to come to school as I.C.E. deportation squads roam our community, spreading fear,” says YES organizer Cendi Trujillo. The 23-year-old Trujillo is no stranger to fear—she was brought to the U.S. when she was 2 years-old and is undocumented.

The success in Milwaukee is based on educator and community collaboration. Earlier this year, MTEA members, including teacher Marcelia Nicholson, who learned about Safe Zones policies at NEA’s Minority Leadership program last fall, played a crucial role in persuading the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution pledging Milwaukee will remain a place where undocumented immigrants are welcomed.

This action helped lay the groundwork for the School Board’s safe haven action. Long-standing community partnerships in Milwaukee, many seeded with support of NEA’s Minority Community Outreach Program, have resulted in not only a powerful message about supporting immigrant students and families, but a real policy win for all the citizens of Milwaukee.

Reader Comments

  1. I’m so sorry for your anger against children. God will forgive you if you ask him to touch your heart. Go volunteer your time at a school and see how much better you will feel. All children need to be educated. You need to lose all of your hatred towards others, even if you are perfect, your attitude isn’t Christian and it isn’t American.

  2. Why are officials not enforcing Immigration laws and aiding illegal immigrants ! Schools are overcrowded paying more for illegal alien kids education than citizens education while the citizens are forced to pay for illegals ! Like California Oakland schools district their schools will soon be bankrupt because illegals dont pay taxes ! I suggest every citizen move their kids out of these sanctuary schools so they are stuck with just illegal students or Illegals anchor babies thus forcing their layoff !

    1. Your lack of compassion for children is shameful. I’ll pray for you that God will touch your heart and remove all of the hatred you have bottled up inside of you. You can’t be a Christian, just a republican.

    2. You are of course exactly right. No money for schools paid for by legal taxpayers, healthcare systems being inundated with free care for illegal aliens, cities with mayors who are harboring illegal aliens. Marty Walsh in Boston says he will bring them into his office. I wonder how he will fit all (estimated) 35,000 into his office? Oh but it is insulting to call these people illegal aliens, they are undocumented, that is until they commit crimes then they are documented in our justice system: for which taxpayers pay. How does it make any sense to allow illegal activity and model and support such behavior for students? What are we doing to prepare this generation to be Americans first? Or are we looking for snowflakes?

      1. And that has what to do with anything? I mean , other than those here illegally are in an illegal status. I suppose that makes them in a situation that puts them in a criminal status of some sort. And I really doubt that those illegal aliens who do pay taxes cover the cost of all the others who do not and thereby place a huge burden on legal tax payers.

    3. It takes a certain ability of mind and heart to be able to recognize the needs of others, to have the compassion and empathy and the will and the fortitude to provide it because it is the right thing to do. If you are unable to feel empathy, you will never understand “why” a person is given sanctuary.. Compassion is power it’s much harder than throwing stones, which is force.

      1. A person is given sanctuary when there is some political situation that demands it. Not just when they no longer want to work to make their own country better. Why do we want people here who are unwilling or unable to fight for their own rights in their own country. And please do not start with that’s how this country emerged. The patriots who founded this country were willing to give their lives and fortunes for our way of life.

        After the country was founded based on their sacrifices, those wanting to come here to escape what ever, were required to do so in an orderly, legal status. Not too many of our so called sanctuary cities are attempting to protect legal aliens.

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