Immigration

Should undocumented students be afraid? These are their rights.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

For many who have immigrated to the United States, President Donald Trump’s call for the U.S. to build a wall at the Mexican border, cut off funding for “sanctuary” cities and ban refugees have ignited fear and uncertainty.

For undocumented students, or those who have undocumented relatives, these fears are particularly salient.

At a Indianapolis Public Schools board meeting last week, Manuel Martinez, an IPS parent, called on the district to support families and help them learn about their rights. Parents and grandparents of IPS students are afraid they will be deported, he said.

“This is producing a toxic environment that doesn’t allow for kids to learn or succeed academically. Many parents are worried about being separated from their children,” Martinez said. “There is a sense that this could happen at any time.”

Here are some basics on the rights of undocumented students and what the district could do to support their families.

What is a “sanctuary” city, university or district?

Some U.S. cities and counties that have adopted policies meant to protect undocumented immigrants are known as sanctuaries. These areas often have policies that discourage law enforcement from asking about immigration status or prevent jails from holding people at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But the term “sanctuary” is ambiguous, and its use is different in the context of schools and universities, where it typically focuses on limiting ICE access to student information and campuses.

Could IPS become a “sanctuary” district?

Amid growing fear for the rights of immigrants, school districts joined cities and universities across the country in declaring themselves sanctuaries for undocumented students.

The National Immigration Law Center prepared a model resolution for school boards that includes a range of policies to protect the rights of immigrant families. The resolution aims to limit federal immigration authorities from gaining access to student information and campuses. It also provides resources for undocumented families.

Last week, board member Kelly Bentley suggested IPS should consider joining their ranks.

“We’ve got some families that probably feel quite vulnerable right now,” Bentley said. “We need to do everything we can to let our families know they are welcome in this district and that we are going to do everything we can do protect them.”

Some of the policies from the National Immigration Law Center, however, might be illegal in Indiana. Under a 2011 state law, a governmental body may not have a policy barring employees from communicating with federal officials about immigration status.

Even if the district does not adopt new policies, however, students already have protections.

Do undocumented students have a right to an education in K-12 schools?

Children are entitled to a free, public education regardless of their immigration status. That was decided more than three decades ago in the U.S. Supreme Court case Plyler vs. Doe, according to Michael Olivas, a professor at University of Houston Law Center and acting president of University of Houston Downtown.

“A student is a student is a student,” he said. “The protections are exactly the same.”

In fact, undocumented students are required by truancy laws to attend school, said Olivas, who wrote a book on the influence of Plyler.

While school districts occasionally hinder undocumented students from enrolling, those issues are typically resolved when attorneys step in, he said.

“As confusing as the system is,” Olivas said, “there have been no recent governmental actions that would affect K-12 students who may be out of status or whose parents may be out of status.”

Can school officials ask about immigration status?

School officials are not allowed ask students about their immigration status as a condition of enrollment or require children to provide Social Security numbers. Officials may ask students about their immigration status, however, if they have a legitimate reason, such as if a student is eligible for a scholarship they can only receive if they are in the country legally, Olivas said.

Can ICE agents get information from schools or come to a campus to detain students?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act forbids schools from sharing identifiable student records without parental permission, and undocumented students have the same privacy rights as their peers. But law enforcement officers, including ICE agents, can still access student information in some situations.

“As long as a legitimate law enforcement claim is issued, than a school district or for that matter a college or university, must turn over data,” Olivas said.

Law enforcement officers could also detain children while they are at school if they have a tangible government interest, Olivas said. Although there have been some ICE raids of parents at schools, ICE policy discourages action at sensitive locations, including schools.

“School districts are not the place where we play out these pageants,” Olivas said. “Children are off limits.”

Chalkbeat reporter Shaina Cavazos contributed to this story.

Immigration

Trump administration says DACA protections will stay for now — a temporary win for undocumented educators, students

PHOTO: TFA
Teach For America's DACAmented corps at its 2016 convening

The Trump administration said “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, will remain protected for now — a short-term win for educators who had entered the classroom thanks to the new protections and for students worried about deportation and losing a path into the workforce.

Although the ultimate fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, is unclear, a fact sheet posted by Department of Homeland Security says recipients of the program will “continue to be eligible” for renewal and that “no work permits will be terminated prior to their current expiration dates.”

Nearly 1.5 million people had requested to participate in DACA by the end of 2016, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The decision to keep DACA comes after multiple petitions from schools chiefs and education leaders across the country asking for the protections established during the Obama administration to continue. The program has allowed some undocumented people to become educators, including through Teach for America, which has developed a support program for them. (Read more about that program here.) Some teachers who earned work permits under the program now have a path to citizenship, too.

In Colorado, one of TFA’s “DACAmented” teachers said the program put her in position to help other Hispanic students and families.

“This is the first time in a classroom where I can have a conversation about race and immigration without feeling sick to my stomach,” one student told her.

The decision also comes alongside news that the Trump administration is rescinding another Obama-era program granting citizenship to parents whose children are citizens or residents of the U.S., commonly referred to as DAPA. A 2014 report estimated that up to 3.6 million unauthorized immigrants were eligible for protections from deportation and entry into the workforce under DAPA.

Seeking distance

Aurora school board: Judge us by our actions, not one board member’s words

Students at Aurora's Boston K-8 school in spring 2015. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post).

The Aurora school board sought to convey Thursday that the controversial statements of one of its members should not overshadow the board’s actions to support immigrant and refugee families.

Board president Amber Drevon sent a statement to reporters trying to shift attention back to a board resolution last month that underscored district policies about responding to immigration enforcement actions and emphasized “inclusive practices.”

The resolution was meant to allay fears in immigrant communities. Although the vote for the resolution was unanimous, board member Cathy Wildman’s remarks during the board’s deliberations continue to cause challenges for the school district.

Widlman at that meeting called the resolution unnecessary and argued that it singled out a group of students she called rule-breakers. After being criticized by education reform groups and speakers at this week’s school board meeting, Wildman read a lengthy statement that emphasized the importance of following rules and included an assurance that she wants students to feel safe. She declined to answer questions from Chalkbeat at the meeting.

Here is the full text of the statement Drevon shared, which she said in an email was on behalf of the board:

“The Aurora Public Schools Board of Education values holding open conversations with our community. The Board is comprised of individual members who are entitled to voice their own opinions. We voted unanimously on May 16, 2017 to pass ‘A Resolution to Reaffirm Aurora Public Schools’ Inclusive Practices and Beliefs for all Students Regardless of Documentation Status.’ The vote and text of the resolution, not the comments of any one member, speak to the Board’s commitment to upholding the policies, core beliefs and practices already in place to support our immigrant and refugee families. Our focus remains on providing the best educational opportunities for every APS student.”