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.

safe schools

Aurora school board approves resolution to protect immigrant students, though some raise questions

File photo of rising second-graders at Aurora's Jewell Elementary.

The Aurora school board unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday aimed at helping immigrant students feel safer, but not before fault lines emerged over its title and intent.

The board debated whether the resolution supported all students or just some, and one board member suggested immigrants in other parts of the country were making people feel unsafe.

The resolution, proposed and written by a group of parents and community members, largely reaffirms district policies for dealing with federal immigration enforcement actions.

“We have a legal obligation to serve all students no matter their documentation status,” board member Dan Jorgensen said.

The resolution was spearheaded by RISE Colorado, a local nonprofit. Parents, students and community members who worked to write the resolution spoke to the board at a meeting earlier this month and said they needed to know the district supported them so they could feel a little safer.

“It would send a message that the district is on the side of families,” one mother wrote in a letter that was read to the board.

Students, parents and community members supporting the resolution wore buttons that read, “Keep APS Safe.”

The resolution directs the school district to ensure officials are not collecting information about the legal status of students or their families, that they keep schools safe for students and families, and that a memo the district sent to school leaders in February gets translated and made available to all families and all staff.

The memo outlines the procedures Aurora school leaders should follow if interacting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at a school.

The resolution also calls for district officials to write a plan for how to react if an immigration enforcement action prevents a parent from picking up a student from school.

But before voting, school board members discussed the resolution’s title and whether the resolution was for all students.

Aurora school board member Cathy Wildman said Aurora already has enough policies creating safe schools by prohibiting discrimination. She said the resolution was about one group of students, and not really for all students.

“I guess I feel that we are setting aside, or creating additional rules and policies in some ways where people broke the rules,” Wildman said.

She added that some immigrants have made some areas of the country unsafe and said in one instance her nieces traveling to southern California were told to turn around because it would not be safe for them.

Board member JulieMarie Shepherd argued that the title of the resolution — “A resolution to keep Aurora Public Schools a safe and inclusive school community” — was too broad and made it sound like the resolution helped all students, when it doesn’t, she said.

She gave the example of a gender non-conforming child, saying, “this resolution does nothing to protect them.”

Board member Jorgensen argued that the resolution was for all students, saying that many of the community members who helped write the resolution only did it for the safety of other children, not their own. He added that he wants his own child to be in a school where all children feel safe.

“By serving the kids on the fringe, we serve all our kids,” Jorgensen said.

The final resolution approved was changed to be called “A resolution to reaffirm APS’ inclusive practices and beliefs for all students regardless of documentation status.”

After Tuesday’s vote and discussion, parents said they felt some of the board members’ comments were rude, but said they respected all opinions and said they were happy the resolution still passed.

Districts across the country, including in neighboring Denver, have passed similar resolutions, often with stronger language that specifically prohibits district staff from giving information or cooperating with immigration officials.

A spokeswoman for Denver Public Schools confirmed recently that the district received a request for information in April from federal immigration officials. She could not say more specifically what information was requested, but said the district did not comply.

Aurora’s city council Monday night passed a resolution stating Aurora is not a “sanctuary city,” and that it will comply with all immigration laws. City officials expressed concern about losing federal money after the Trump administration said they would withhold funding from jurisdictions that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

taking initiative

Parents, students press Aurora school district to pass resolution assuring safety of immigrant students

A reading lesson this spring at an Aurora family resource center. (Kathryn Scott, The Denver Post).

As a mother of four U.S.-born schoolchildren, but being in the country illegally herself, Arely worries that immigration agents might pick her up while she is taking her kids to school one day.

But what worries her more is that her children could be picking up on her fears — and that it might hurt their focus in school. She’s also concerned for those immigrant students who could be at risk for deportation.

“There are a lot of us who are looking for the security or reassurance from the district — most of all, that our children will be safe,” said Arely, who spoke on the condition that her full name not be used because of her immigration status.

Dozens of Aurora students and parents, including Arely, are pressing the school board of Aurora Public Schools to adopt a proposed resolution for “safe and inclusive” schools that they say would help. While the Denver school board adopted a similar resolution in February, their peers in Aurora have yet to act.

“Knowing that Aurora doesn’t yet have a resolution makes me feel insecure,” Arely said.

A district spokesman said in an email the resolution won’t be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, on Tuesday, but that it would be “part of the Board’s open dialogue.”

“Anytime the Board is contemplating a community request, the Board first openly discusses their interest in a public forum,” spokesman Corey Christiansen said. “If there is interest, the Board would decide to move forward at a future meeting to issue a statement.”

Two board members reached for comment Wednesday — Dan Jorgensen and Monica Colbert — both said they supported the resolution.

“I believe that not only do we have a legal obligation to serve all students, more importantly, we have a moral obligation to make sure that all of our students are in safe and inclusive environments,” Jorgensen said. “This resolution is about doing the right thing, including providing a public statement of support and directing reasonable action on behalf of all children in our schools.”

Colbert said not supporting the resolution would deny the strength of the district’s diversity.

“In a district like Aurora where our biggest strength is our diversity, for us not to adopt a resolution such as this would be not well serving of our students,” Colbert said.

The document presented by parents and students would direct the school district to ensure officials are not collecting information about the legal status of students or their families, that they keep schools safe for students and families, and that a memo the district sent to school leaders in February gets translated and made available to all families and all staff.

The memo outlines the procedures Aurora school leaders should follow if interacting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at a school.

The resolution also calls for district officials to write a plan within 90 days for how to react if an immigration enforcement action prevents a parent from picking up a student from school.

The parents and students started sharing concerns at end of last year after President Trump’s election stoked fears in immigrant communities.

Working with RISE, a nonprofit that works with low-income parents to give them a voice in education issues, the parents and students researched other school district resolutions and worked on drafting their own.

“We didn’t want any words that seemed as if they were demanding,” Arely said. “We just want equality for our children.”

Anjali Ehujel, a 17-year-old senior at Aurora Central High School, said she has seen her friends suffering and worried a lot recently. The most important part of the resolution for her was making sure her fellow students were no longer so distracted.

“This is important because we all need education and we all have rights to get education,” Ehujel said.

Another student, Mu Cheet Cheet, a 14-year-old freshman at Aurora West College Preparatory Academy, said she got involved because she saw other students at her school bullied and depressed as they were teased about the possibility of being deported.

“For refugees they would just watch because they didn’t know how to help,” Cheet said. “When I came here, I also wanted to feel safe.”

Cheet, who came to the country as a refugee from Thailand seven years ago, found that working on the resolution was one way she could help.

More than 82 percent of the Aurora district’s 41,000 students are students of color. The city and district are one of the most diverse in the state.

“We really hope APS approves this resolution given it’s the most diverse district in the state,” said Veronica Palmer, the executive director of RISE Colorado.

Here is the draft resolution:



FINAL Resolution to Keep APS Safe and Inclusive 4 21 17 (Text)