nation of immigrants

Could fear of Trump’s immigration policies keep New York City students out of school?

A student in an after-school program run by the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, where Helena Yordan works, drew and wrote about his fear of Trump.

After the election, a student in Helena Yordan’s Bronx after-school program handed her a drawing with an image of an immigration agent arresting a woman.

The caption read, “Donald Trump, why do you deport our parents? You don’t recognize how scared kids are.”

That student is still attending the program, but Yordan said she’s worried about keeping other students in school and after-school as anxiety consumes many immigrant families.

This child’s mother, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador who did not provide her name, said some Hispanic parents were afraid to visit the school and one of her friends was considering pulling her child out altogether.

While the mother we spoke with has no plans to keep her children home, she understands the impulse.

“I had the same fears,” she said. “I sometimes felt very insecure to go out in the street. I had nightmares.”

Those fears are reflected across the city. As the federal government ratchets up immigration enforcement — most recently by dramatically expanding the pool of undocumented immigrants who can be deported — families are increasingly hiding behind locked doors. Despite assurances from the city that it will safeguard students, advocates worry that families could leave schools next.

“The big issue is that there is pervasive anxiety across immigrant communities,” said Kim Sykes, who works on education at the New York Immigration Coalition. “They are afraid to do laundry. They are terrified of being separated. This anxiety extends to all areas of life and school is not exempt.”

Sykes recounted one instance in which parents, on their way to drop off a child at a child care center in the Bronx, thought they were being followed by ICE agents. Out of fear, they did not take their child to the center that day. (While some recent reports suggest Trump could be open to immigration reform, Sykes’s organization said it was unconvinced his attitude toward immigrants has changed.)

Roksana Mun, director of strategy and training at DRUM, an organization that helps South Asian immigrants, has heard some of the same concerns as Sykes. In private conversations and phone calls, she said, three separate families have told her they are worried about sending their children to school.

So far in New York City, these are anecdotal stories and fears. The Department of Education said there is no evidence of a widespread drop in attendance citywide or among specific immigrant-heavy communities.

“We want to make sure that parents send those kids to school. The best place to be protected is in your school,” said Chancellor Carmen Fariña at a Tuesday press conference. “We have not seen a dip in attendance and I want that to continue.”

The city sent a letter home to parents in January explaining that schools do not keep records of immigration status and will not allow ICE agents to access school buildings without “proper legal authority.” On Tuesday, she also said the city is drafting a second letter that spells out the protocol if immigrant agents show up at school.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who made immigrant protection central to her recent State of the City speech, said she is looking into whether the city can strengthen its response. Even the rumblings of students avoiding school are troubling to her, she said.

“It may not be happening on a massive scale,” Mark-Viverito said, “but the fact that it’s starting to happen in some cases is a concern for us.”

Recent events seem to justify the parents’ fears. In Virginia and Texas, parents have reportedly been arrested or picked up by ICE agents while dropping their children off at school, according to the Washington Post. In Connecticut, there is anecdotal evidence that families might be keeping their children out of school, according to a spokeswoman for the education department.

And higher education has been impacted in California. The number of undocumented students applying for state financial aid there dropped more than 40 percent compared to last year.

This wouldn’t be the first time fear of immigration enforcement kept students from school.

In Durham, North Carolina, high school attendance dropped 20 percent last year after a student was arrested in an immigration raid. When Alabama enacted a sweeping crackdown on undocumented immigrants in 2011, which initially required schools to collect the immigration status of students, the Department of Justice documented a surge in Hispanic absences.

Some parents’ fears center not on the the safety of school itself, but on the threat of being separated from their children at all, said Ref Rodriguez, a member of the Los Angeles School Board. He started pushing for the L.A. to increase protections for immigrant students after he heard of a family that kept phone numbers on their refrigerator so the children would have someone to call if they came home from school one day and discovered their parents were gone.

“No child should come home and wonder whether or not their mom or dad is going to come home tonight,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve done things so that we can help people feel that that they feel secure and safe.”

Many local advocates want New York City to go further to reassure immigrant families. The fear, they say, is palpable — and widespread.

Darnell Benoit, director of Flanbwayan, a group that helps young Haitian immigrants, said he knows of Haitian parents who are planning to head back to Haiti and leave their minor children in someone else’s custody. Ninaj Raoul, executive director for Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, said she has easily gotten 20 nervous calls a day since the election.

At this point, Benoit said, “anything can happen,” including parents pulling their children out of school. “People are definitely afraid.”

Christina Veiga contributed reporting

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)