Newcomers

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.

Newcomers

Indianapolis Public Schools board votes tomorrow on a resolution to support undocumented students. We annotated it.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

The Indianapolis Public School board can’t protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. But it can do its best to reassure families that school is still safe.

The board will vote Thursday on a largely symbolic resolution to show support for undocumented students.

The move comes amid rising tensions over the Trump administration’s plans to crack down on undocumented immigrants. At recent meetings parents have spoken to the board about families’ fears, and teachers have struggled to reassure anxious students.

“We’ve heard concerns from a number of immigrant students and families,” said board president Mary Ann Sullivan. “We want to communicate our commitment to serving and supporting them in every way we can.”

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said that the district is already working to serve immigrant students.

“I don’t see it changing our work and what we do already,” he said. “This is the commissioners’ way, and the administration’s, of assuring families that we will continue to maintain the welcoming environment that we have.”

What follows is the full text of the resolution. We’ve annotated it with links to our past coverage and context. Click on the highlighted passages to read our annotations.

RESOLUTION NO. 7736 – February 23rd, 2017
REAFFIRMING THE COMMITMENT TO CREATING A SAFE AND SUPPORTIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR ALL STUDENTS REGARDLESS OF IMMIGRATION STATUS

WHEREAS, Indianapolis Public Schools (“IPS”) is committed to creating a safe, supportive, and welcoming learning environment regardless of, among other things, race, religion, nationality, sexual identity, ability, or immigration status; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe (1982) recognized the injustice of placing discriminatory burdens on the basis of legal characteristics over which children have no control, and held it unconstitutional to deny a free, public education to children who are not legally admitted into the United States; and

WHEREAS, the Board of School Commissioners recognizes the tremendous value and diversity that immigrant students and families bring to the school district; and

WHEREAS, the Board approved the establishment of a Newcomer Program in April 2016 to provide additional academic and community supports to students and families that have recently immigrated to the United States; and

WHEREAS, the Board of School Commissioners, and every person in its employ, is committed to standing with, and supporting, all IPS students and families to the fullest extent possible while complying with all local, state, and federal law;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, by the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Indianapolis, that to the extent permitted by applicable law:

  • IPS will remain a safe and welcoming place for all students and families regardless of their immigration status;
  • IPS policies against intimidation, bullying, or discrimination of any student, including those born outside of the United States or for whom English is a second language, will continue to be strictly enforced to ensure that all students are treated with dignity and respect;
  • IPS will continue to seek opportunities to increase and enhance programs and partnerships that support and assist immigrant students and families;
  • IPS employees shall continue to follow the policy and practice of not requiring social security numbers for any enrolled or enrolling student and will continue to refrain from inquiring about a student’s or parent’s immigration status;
  • As in the past, IPS employees will not collect or provide any information regarding a student’s (or his/her family’s) immigration status, except as legally required;
  • The Board supports U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy that restricts enforcement actions by ICE officers and agents in or around schools, and reminds IPS employees that they shall not assist immigration enforcement efforts unless legally required and authorized to do so by the Superintendent.

The foregoing Resolution No. 7736 was passed by the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Indianapolis this 23rd day of February, 2017.

Newcomers

This mom came to the newcomer school ready to stand up for son. She left with a job.

PHOTO: Provided by Javier Barrera Cervantes
Charlotte Uwimbabazi is a bilingual assistant at the Indianapolis Public Schools newcomer program.

When Charlotte Uwimbabazi showed up at Indianapolis Public Schools’ program for new immigrants, she was ready to fight for her son. When she left that day, she had a job.

A native of the Congo, Uwimbabazi fled the war-torn country and spent nearly a decade in Cape Town, South Africa waiting for a new home. Last spring, Uwimbabazi and her four children came to the U.S. as refugees.

(Read: Teaching when students are full of fear: Inside Indiana’s first school for new immigrants)

When the family arrived in Indianapolis, Uwimbabazi’s youngest son Dave enrolled at Northwest High School. But he wasn’t happy, and a volunteer helping to resettle the family suggested he transfer to Crispus Attucks High School. When the school year started, though, Crispus Attucks turned him away. Staff there said he had been assigned to the newcomer program, a school for students who are new to the country and still learning English.

There was just one problem: Dave was fluent in English after growing up in South Africa. Uwimbabazi said it’s the only language he knows. So Uwimbabazi and her son Dave headed to the newcomer school to convince them he should attend Crispus Attucks.

That’s when Jessica Feeser, who oversees the newcomer school and programing for IPS students learning English, stepped in — and found a new resource for the district’s growing population of newcomer students.

Feeser immediately realized that Dave was fluent in English and should enroll in Crispus Attucks. Then, Uwimbabazi started talking with Feeser about her own experience. With a gift for languages, Uwimbabazi speaks six fluently, including Swahili and Kinyarwanda, languages spoken by many African students at the school.

“Where are you working right now?” Feeser asked. “Would you like a job here?”

Uwimbabazi, who had been packing mail, took a job as a bilingual assistant at the school. Her interaction with the district went from “negativity to positivity,” she said.

The newcomer program has seen dramatic growth in enrollment since it opened last fall, and it serves about three dozen refugee students. Students at the school speak at least 14 different languages. As the only staff member at the school who speaks Swahili and Kinyarwanda, Uwimbabazi is a lifeline for many of the African refugees it serves, Feeser said.

She works alongside teachers, going over material in languages that students speak fluently and helping them grasp everything from simple instructions to complex concepts like graphing linear equations, Feeser said. She also helps bridge the divide between the district and the Congolese community on Indianapolis’ westside, going on home visits to meet parents and helping convince families to enroll their children in school.

When students in the newcomer program don’t share a language with staff members, the school is still able to educate them, Feeser said. But it is hard to build community without that bridge. Uwimbabazi has played an essential role in helping the school build relationships with families.

“She believes that all of our families are important, and she’s working diligently to make sure that they feel that their voices are heard,” Feeser said. “It was a gift from God that she joined us.”