After frightening ICE raid, educators and new school board join forces to protect all of their students

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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.

David Morales

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.”

Reader Comments

  1. I think anyone who breaks the law should be held accountable. My school has a large population of undocumented students who are given many opportunities to improve their life; including free school supplies, part-time employment, free breakfast/lunch. I take issue with how many of these students do not even live within the district but commute on a daily basis from Juarez. Many of them have a “tutor” or “guardian” who sometimes gets paid for that designation. It is all a scam. Administrators turn a blind eye to these illegalities because they want to amplify shrinking enrollment numbers. While I am dedicated to helping every student who walks into my classroom, I know resources are stretched thin to serve children from undocumented families and ultimately that hurts the students who are from the community and who deserve a better education. While there is a range of undocumented students who are committed to their education, we also have to contend with many of them who play politics, are not interested in learning, and are just taking advantage of the liberal system set to accommodate them. We should have a more thoughtful system in place which deals with the reality of educating children of undocumented families and does not penalize students who are legitimate US citizens.

  2. As an educator, it is one thing to say that the children are innocent and that the parents were the ones who broke the laws. However, what about when the educator has to deal with disrespectful children of parents who are undocumented? It’s hard teaching in urban low income high poverty areas. But when the kids are rude and disrespectful to the staff, break into the school in the community where taxpayers have funded the schools, it makes you wonder… Are these parents really coming to the United States for a better life, or to create the familiar life in their countries of origin.

    1. CCJ – How do you know for certain they’re undocumented? My experience is that these kids rarely reveal their status but it sounds like you’ve made up your mind that most problems in our urban areas are the fault of disrespectful illegal children.

  3. Just as a side question – What about money contributed by all the working illegal aliens being funneled into our schools and other infrastructures? Why shouldn’t it be used to educate and support the children of the illegal aliens who paid into the system? It is already being used to fund schools for legal citizens.

  4. MarineBob, please, put yourself in the shoes (or bare feet) of the children. Please, don’t criticize until you’ve walked in their shoes (or with their bare feet).
    In my 26 years of teaching, all of the illegal alien parents I met were wonderful people wanting a better life for their families. Yes, some were my neighbors. They expected their children to be well mannered and study hard so the children would not have to work minimum wage jobs.
    When they try to enter the USA using the legal route, corruption is rampant. If you don’t pay the “added fee” (aka — bribe) to the person at the desk the forms you just handed to them gets put at the bottom of the pile and stays there until you pay the “added fee”.
    MarineBob, are you one of the lucky ones whose ancestors came to America before the rules and regulations were so stringent?

  5. I am happy to pay taxes for every child to attend school no matter the legal status of their parents. I also support a pathway to citizenship for their parents.

  6. And still, no one can answer the questions I posed. How many children were left without parents?

    Why do legal tax payers want to pay for illegal aliens?

    Do legal citizens really want illegal aliens in their community where their taxes have to pay for them?

  7. MarineBob – Maybe educators and legal taxpayers have sympathy for children, illegal or not, in their own communities. That’s their local decision. Do you have a problem with that?

    1. Yes I do. If a person is here illegally, they have broken a law and that is not the kind of person we want in this country. They ought to go to Canada, a European nation or some other socialist leaning country.

      Why do we want people here who feel no obligation to obey the laws of this country?

      1. MarineBob – You keep saying “person” and “people” who broke the law. The article is speaking of protecting children and students. The children are guiltless of the actions of their parents and some of those children may in fact be citizens if they were born here on american soil. Those children are deserving of taxpayer funded dollars for their education. That is also the law.

        1. The kids are welcome to stay if they are citizens. A good number of illegals come here to have children just for that reason, hoping bleeding heart liberals will get out their crying towels and let them stay ‘for the kids.’

          Nobody seems to be tossing legal citizens out. That is not what the article is about though it seems to suggest that legal residents are being deported. How many legal citizens are deported ? If the parents were really concerned about their kids, they would have considered they could be deported and make arrangements for their kids to stay here if they are citizens.

          Seems the kind of person we need in this country is one who comes here legally, wants to follow our laws, or maybe a person who stays in their own country to make it better, not leach off this nation.

          This nation has enough problems without having to tolerate paying for illegal entrants and their offspring. I sincerely doubt a lot of illegal immigrants pay enough taxes to cover the cost of all those who leach off our system.

          I can say that with as much confidence as those who want to argue that illegals pay taxes to support their burden on our societal systems. In other words, no one knows, so let’s just say we ought to follow the law.

          1. MarineBob – According to figures published by the ITEP in 2011, undocumented immigrants paid roughly 11.2 billion in taxes in 2010. Yet despite making a whopping 14 billion in profits, General Electric paid zero taxes in 2010. Tell me again, who’s the leech?

        2. Children are often the victims of their parents’ poor choices. Prisons are full of parents who have committed crimes from armed robbery to murder and everything in between. Should we let them out of prison because they have children?

          1. 25yearsjhs – The children may be victims, but they’re not to blame for the actions of their parents. Why cause them unneeded anxiety, especially when it’s creating turmoil for BOTH documented and undocumented children? Schools should be a safe space for kids to learn not an opportunity for ICE agents to set an ambush.

  8. Parents make choices, children don’t. As responsible adults we should protect the children in our nation, whether illegal or not, from as much suffering as we can. They are not the ones who chose to come here, to commit that illegal act you speak of, to have illegal siblings who have no choice about what country they live in and who have no control over where they were born or where they are taken afterwards. Yet their worlds will be destroyed. They will have to deal with their constant fear for their loved ones, sibling and parent alike, with consequent PTSD and abandonment issues after ICE breaks their family apart before their eyes. They will be homeless and hungry, many times with no one to turn to for comfort and support, their family structure shattered. Should we leave them homeless and hungry and hurting in the wake of ICE? Even though they did not commit any crime and may actually be citizens of the United States?
    How many tax dollars are we citizens going to spend to provide homes, food and support for our forcibly abandoned and traumatized legal children of illegal aliens?
    Personally, I do not think the punishment fits the crime of illegality. I do not think innocents should be punished when they have committed no crime. I do not think children should be punished for the crimes of their parents. I became an educator to help others. I am a mandated reporter of child abuse. Punishing children for the acts of their parents is child abuse.

    1. Children are not being punished. They can leave with their illegal parents and go back to from where they came. There are lots of arguments about aliens maintaining their cultural ideas. What better way to do that than in your native land?

      Come here legally or leave. Really, its pretty simple. Legal or leave.

      1. Determination of whether a consequence is a punishment is in the perspective of the victim, not in that of those that inflict that consequence. Children have no voice and no choice in their status, whereabouts, the consequences, or their legal status, be it illegal or legal, yet their terror and anguish are are very real. I’m fairly certain that they feel punished.

      2. Are you saying you are of Native American ancestry Bob? If not, I hope you are packing up to go back to where ever it is your people came from!

        1. The Native American argument isn’t valid. There were no immigration laws in this country/territory at the time.

          1. I’d like to think that we don’t need a law telling us that genocide of an entire race of people is wrong. The reason I believe the “Native Americans didn’t have immigration laws” is invalid is that whether or not they had laws about it, us whities (or any human being for that matter) should know that mass murder is wrong. We didn’t have the right to murder pretty much an entire race just because they didn’t have a law telling us we shouldn’t.

    2. How many ‘abandoned’ children is our government paying for? Illegal parents who are deported and want to ‘abandon’ their kids here have created the problem. They should have thought about what would happen to their kids if they were deported. Its their fault not the government’s.

  9. How many students were left without parents? In other words, how many illegal aliens were deported without being allowed to take their kids with them. Seems the author did not quite get to completing the story.

    And why is there an issue with deporting people who are here illegally? They have committed an unlawful act. Is that the kind of people we want in our country? Why do the legal taxpayers in these communities want to have their tax money used to educate those here illegally?

    1. MarineBob, please, put yourself in the shoes (or bare feet) of the children. Please, don’t criticize until you’ve walked in their shoes (or with their bare feet).
      In my 26 years of teaching, all of the illegal alien parents I met were wonderful people wanting a better life for their families. Yes, some were my neighbors. They expected their children to be well mannered and study hard so the children would not have to work minimum wage jobs.
      When they try to enter the USA using the legal route, corruption is rampant. If you don’t pay the “added fee” (aka — bribe) to the person at the desk the forms you just handed to them gets put at the bottom of the pile and stays there until you pay the “added fee”.
      MarineBob, are you one of the lucky ones whose ancestors came to America before the rules and regulations were so stringent?

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