By Amy Simpson
In the early morning of February 15—just weeks after Trump signed executive orders cracking down on undocumented immigrants—ICE agents swept through the city of Las Cruces, raiding a trailer park, laundry mat, and other locales. Even the areas around school grounds weren’t safe. A high school junior was seized by ICE agents while walking to school, and a principal reported that ICE agents were outside the school gates, making parents afraid to pick up their kids.
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Las Cruces residents, including local educators, immediately voiced their outrage in same-day protests that blocked downtown traffic.
Despite the public show of support, the day after the raids, 2,100 Las Cruces students—9% of the district’s student population—stayed home from school, garnering notice as far afield as the New Yorker magazine. Students told their teachers they were afraid to come to school, fearing their parents might be deported while they were gone. Some of the students who made it school were sobbing and distraught.
“When any kid is out, it’s obvious,” says New Mexico Teacher of the Year, David Morales. “But last month it was painfully obvious. There was fear and hysteria even among documented students because many of them have loved ones they’re fearful for.”
When anxious educators called NEA-Las Cruces leaders asking how to help their students, the local affiliate took quick action, reaching out to NEA for educational resources to distribute to schools and organizing a social justice action team.
Led by Morales, who is a new NEA-LC board member, the team worked with Las Cruces Public Schools to put together an informational forum for school district staff on immigrant rights and local resources. More than 70 staff, all five newly elected school board members, and the superintendent turned out to get information from civil rights organizations and faith-based advocacy groups.
“This is a very important and close personal issue for me,” said school board president Maria Flores. “My parents were immigrants. I understand how some of our students feel.”
School board members, NEA-LC leaders, and the superintendent worked together to pass a “Safe Zones” resolution, which included recommendations like, “Identifying a bilingual person at each school who can serve as the immigration resource advocate in the building, working with parents to develop an immigration raid emergency plan, and providing counseling for students who have had a family member detained by ICE.”
The resolution, which passed unanimously at an April board meeting, received widespread community support. Members of the public wrote letters to the editor of the local paper thanking the school district for being the first in the region to take a stand on the issue. The Las Cruces resolution is now a model for the state of New Mexico and is being circulated to other school boards for passage.
At the end of the day, passing the resolution was a protective rather than a political stance, says Morales, who believes the action put a lot of minds at ease. “We don’t choose who our students are—whether they’re the children of ICE agents and border guards or the children of undocumented parents—but we do get to choose whether or not we protect all of them.”