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

College Access

Tennessee lawmakers advance bill to give undocumented immigrants in-state tuition

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Students visit the Tennessee State Capitol with local immigrant advocacy groups in support of a measure that would ensure all Tennessee students get in-state tuition.

While President Donald Trump is considering scrapping protections for undocumented students, Tennessee lawmakers advanced a bill on Wednesday that would make it easier for them to go to college.

A proposal to give undocumented immigrant students in-state tuition passed the Senate Education Committee with a 7-2 vote and little debate.

The move was fairly unusual, given Tennessee lawmakers’ typical hardline stance on undocumented immigrants — the state outlawed “sanctuary cities” in 2009 — and the president’s focus on the issue. But the bill’s Republican sponsor, Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, has steered clear of national politics and focused instead on how the proposal would continue the state’s push to get more of its young people into college.

“We know that if more Tennesseans have a college degree, the whole state is better off,” he said. “By allowing more Tennesseans to enroll in college, we can fill crucial labor shortages and expand the overall tax base.”

Sixteen states, and four other state university systems, offered in-state tuition to undocumented students in 2015, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Six states explicitly bar those students from receiving it.

Advocates say the policy can make a big difference for families. Out-of-state tuition to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville is $30,914, compared to $12,274 in-state. And for community colleges, the difference is even greater: out-of-state tuition at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis costs more than $15,000, while other Tennessee high school graduates can attend for free through Tennessee Promise.

Undocumented students can’t access federal Pell grants to pay for college, nor do they qualify for the state’s free community college program, which relies on federal grants.

Making sure students who have lived in Tennessee most of their lives can graduate from college means a better return on taxpayers’ investment, Gardenhire said.

“We invest in these students throughout their K-12 education,” he said. “But then they get to college, and they have to pay three times the in-state rate.”

The bill still has several hurdles to overcome before becoming law, since it hasn’t been heard yet in the House and Tennessee’s legislative session is nearing its end. But its sponsor in the House, Rep. Mark White, a Republican from Memphis, said he is optimistic about the bill’s chances there as well. Gov. Bill Haslam has said in the past that allowing all Tennessee students in-state tuition “has merit.”

On Wednesday, dozens of immigrant students attended the hearing to watch the vote. Many remembered a similar bill that died in the House two years ago, just one vote short.

Many were heartened by the vote, according to Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director of Tennessee Immigrants and Refugee Rights Coalition.

“We are optimistic that subsequent committees will vote to support Tuition Opportunity and that undocumented students in the class of 2017 will be able to graduate with greater opportunity to enroll in college this fall,” she said in a statement.

#immigrantsrock

Dear Mr. President: Immigrant students in Denver tweet to Trump about why their families make America great

PHOTO: Katie Wood
Alejandro Moya, left, and Salvador Garcia look at tweets together that students were adding to a Google Doc as drafts before tweeting them out. Students from Bruce Randolph School tweeted messages to President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

Spread out over large tables, the students of Room 228 cluster together in front of their laptops, typing out messages to the president of the United States.

The sixth and seventh graders at Bruce Randolph School in northeast Denver are the sons and daughters of immigrants. For almost a week now, they have been learning in their English language development class about the contributions of immigrants, President Donald Trump’s rise to power and the vocabulary behind his favorite mode of communication: Twitter.

Those lessons culminated Wednesday when the students’ messages to the president about how their friends and families make America great were posted on the social network via a new classroom account.

“Who used the hashtag, ‘immigrantsrock?’” says teacher Mandy Rees, who came up with the idea of tweeting at Trump. “That makes my heart happy. That’s wonderful.”

Trump’s election and hard-line executive orders on immigration have stoked fears in immigrant communities in Denver and across the country about raids and mass deportations. With so many children of immigrants enrolled in public schools, the classroom has become a forum to meet those fears head on, with educators providing moral support and teaching moments.

This week’s classroom exercise at Bruce Randolph began with a challenge. Principal Cesar Cedillo and another school administrator are headed to a conference in Washington, D.C., this month and arranged meetings with members of Colorado’s congressional delegation.

Teachers were asked to come up with an assignment that would produce something the school leaders could take to the nation’s capital to share with the delegation.

“I kept thinking, ‘How does Donald Trump communicate?’” Rees said. “Well, he communicates through Twitter. This is the best way.”

Last week, the students watched the film “A Day Without a Mexican,” which takes a satirical look at what would happen if all of California’s Mexicans suddenly disappeared. They watched a short PBS “Frontline” piece about Trump’s ascendancy. And they learned the language of Twitter — character counts, how to tweet at people, how hashtags work.

The students spent part of Monday writing drafts of their messages, and refined them Tuesday. Although Rees said the main point of the assignment is to tell students, “You’re important, your voice matters, and it doesn’t feel like that right now,” it’s also a reading and writing exercise.

More than seven in 10 middle school students and nearly eight in 10 high school students at Bruce Randolph are English language learners. Some of the sixth and seventh graders in Rees’s classroom are reading in English at second- or even first-grade level. Many of the students’ parents and relatives are undocumented.

During third period Wednesday morning, students in Room 228 type their 140-character-or-less messages into a shared Google Doc.

One of the two teachers — Rees or Carrie Cisneros — checks them for accuracy and moves them to Twitter, at times tagging Trump’s Twitter handle.

“OK, you guys,” Cisneros says. “I’m ready to tweet another one.”

The tweets — which Rees plans to compile so school leaders can take hard copies to Washington — come in rapid fire. The students summon the teachers for help with calls of, “Miss, miss.” One boy asks whether it’s possible to use a burrito emoji.

The students were told to keep it positive on Twitter, Rees says, not be mean like Trump can be.

“Don’t forget to capitalize ‘America,’ friends,” Cisneros says.

Eating lunch in class after the period ends, a group of sixth-grade boys share their feelings about President Trump, immigrants’ role in society and the assignment they’ve just completed.

“It makes me mad because he is saying we are worthless and we don’t help the U.S.A.,” says student Sebastian Soto. “My dad, he builds houses. My mom, she cleans and cares for us.”

The boys say they hope their messages, whether Trump sees them or not, make a difference in how people think and act. They hope no immigrants are deported, or hurt.

How does it feel to share their experiences with the president?

Says one boy, “I feel proud.”