the next day

‘Will I be deported?’ Inside America’s classrooms in the wake of Trump’s win

Students from Martin Luther Early College in Denver walked out of classes Wednesday to protest Trump's win (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post).

As teacher Nikki Wilks looked around at her Memphis classroom on Wednesday, her high school students seemed to reflect the divide in the nation itself.

One student, who is black, said she worried about raising her 3-year-old daughter in a nation led by President-elect Donald Trump — a world, she imagines, where she won’t be able to speak her mind about racism or inequality. She told Wilks that she needed a hug.

Another student came in wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, unfazed by or unaware of the anguish felt by many students in a school with a significant Hispanic population, a frequent target of Trump’s campaign rhetoric.

Wilks, who had supported Hillary Clinton, admitted to being shell-shocked. She was in and out of tears all morning as she tried to teach her 12th-grade English classes at Kingsbury High.

“The classes are much more somber than normal,” Wilks said. “It feels somewhat like everyone is walking around on eggshells, scared that if we actually vocalize it, we are making it more real, more permanent.”

Across the country, educators of all political persuasions tried to offer space for students to process the surprising Election Day results, in which Clinton won the national popular vote but Trump won the White House. At schools in New York, Colorado, Indiana, and Tennessee, school leaders scrambled to react to the news before Clinton had even given a concession speech.

And in the wake of a campaign in which Trump talked about ramping up deportations, building walls, and banning Muslims from entering the country, teachers at schools that serve immigrants and their families faced intensely personal questions. Will I be forced to leave? Will my parents?

Kevin Kubacki, who runs the Neighborhood Charter Network in Indianapolis, recalled a young student from Brazil asking teachers last year if she could form a club encouraging families not to vote for Trump. She didn’t want her friends from Mexico to have to leave, she said.

“For us, this very real,” he said. “Today, our students have a lot of questions and a lot of fears.”

East Bronx Academy for the Future students Carla Borbon, Justin Vargas, Jayla Cordero, and Hugo Rodriguez talk about the election. (Alex Zimmerman)
East Bronx Academy for the Future students. (Alex Zimmerman)

In an early morning huddle, staff members at a Neighborhood school talked about using lessons about the three branches of government to remind students how no one person has ultimate power in America. Staffers also plan to ask a lawyer to meet with parents concerned about their immigration status, Kubacki said.

In the Denver suburb of Aurora, Principal Ruth Baldivia said she heard of two incidents Wednesday in which students were “not being nice to their fellow Mexican students,” telling them they will have to leave the country.

And at Rocky Mountain Prep, a charter network with two elementary schools in Denver, CEO James Cryan said a number of students asked if the election result means that they’ll no longer have a home in the U.S., “or expressed concerns about a specific relative, asking if their father or mother will have to move away.”

Experts say Trump’s vision of an America rid of people who are currently here illegally would be expensive and time-consuming to achieve. But Trump will have wide latitude to quickly roll back the protections that President Obama extended to undocumented immigrants who are law-abiding and who came to the country as children with their families.

In Queens, New York, a ninth-grader named Kevin who came to the U.S. one year ago from Argentina said his immigrant classmates at Newcomers High School arrived to class full of worry.

“They were saying that they could be deported,” he said.

Even before students arrived, educators were grappling with how best to handle the news.

Sarah Scrogin, principal of New York’s Bronx Academy for the Future, woke up Wednesday morning and wondered: When roughly 70 percent of her students are Hispanic, and many have friends or relatives who could face the consequences of Trump’s harsh stance on immigration, could teachers simply carry on with normal activities? On the other hand, would it be appropriate for teachers to share their own political views as a way of comforting students — or themselves?

“Our job as educators is not to tell others what to think,” she wrote in a morning email to staff, “but rather, to work together with young people to develop their own critical thinking.”

Rayne Macias, of Fairview High, and Jason Segovia, hug as they walk down the street with protesting Boulder High students. morning to protest the (Cliff Grassmick, Boulder Daily Camera).
Rayne Macias, of Fairview High, and Jason Segovia, hug as they walk down the street with protesting Boulder High students. (Cliff Grassmick, Boulder Daily Camera)

Christine Montera, who teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History, got that email and arranged her classroom’s desks into a circle for students to talk. Opinions in class varied: One student, Carla Borbon, said she was concerned for LGBT people “because this man is homophobic,” she said. “A lot of people were wondering what is going to happen to them.”

Junior Hugo Rodriguez had a different take. “I was annoyed about things people were saying about Donald Trump, saying that he’s a rapist and wanted to deport everyone — that’s not true,” he said. “I actually don’t mind Trump as president.”

Exit polls show that America’s youngest voters were more likely to have voted for Clinton on Tuesday. On Wednesday, many were determined to make their voices heard in other ways.

In Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs, dozens of high school students walked out of class in protest of Trump’s victory. At Denver’s Noel Community Arts School, district leaders invited reporters to an impromptu assembly, where students spoke of their frustration. Some sang “Hallelujah.”

Senior class president Peter Lubembela was one of the speakers. A Congolese refugee who was born in Tanzania, he came to the United States when he was 7.

This morning, Lubembela said he was ready to move forward. “We have to empower ourselves and work harder than before and prove all these stereotypes wrong,” he said.

Melanie Asmar, Eric Gorski, and Yesenia Robles contributed reporting from Denver, Shaina Cavazos and Dylan McCoy from Indianapolis, Caroline Bauman from Memphis, and Christina Veiga and Alex Zimmerman from New York City.

Close vote

Tennessee House committee denies in-state tuition to 13,000 immigrant students

PHOTO: Marcus Villa/Latino Memphis
Immigrant students display their career aspirations during a visit to the State Capitol in March to support a bill that would extend in-state tuition to them. The proposal was voted down by a House committee on Tuesday.

A proposal to ease the pathway to college for about 13,000 Tennessee students died by a single vote in a House education committee on Tuesday, as young people who would have benefited looked on.

For the third year, Rep. Mark White of Memphis had sponsored a bill that would grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, arguing that expanded education access would be a boon for all Tennesseans.

But opponents shot down the measure 7-6 after hearing discussion mostly in favor of it. Rep. Dawn White, a Murfreesboro Republican, was the only lawmaker to speak against the bill. She argued that the policy would make Tennessee a magnet for illegal immigration.

About a dozen immigrant students had crammed into a committee room at the State Capitol in Nashville to witness the vote. Many were moved to tears by the outcome. The panel’s decision means Tennessee students who are in the country illegally must pay two to three times higher than their counterparts who pay in-state tuition to attend a public college. 

The scene was reminiscent of 2015, when a similar bill made it all the way to the House floor, only to fail by one vote because a Democratic supporter was absent.

This year, the measure had passed the Senate Education Committee and had the endorsement of Gov. Bill Haslam and the state’s largest college system, which stood to enjoy millions of dollars in increased revenue if it passed.

White wants Tennessee to join 20 states that allow undocumented immigrants to have in-state tuition. He argued that his proposal would help set the life trajectories of thousands of students, as well as their future children who will be citizens of Tennessee and the U.S.

“Most of these young people come from modest means. To pay $28,000 a year is out of the question,” he said. “I believe that it’s a basic conservative argument that if a person is willing to get up every morning, go to work, go to school, and better their life — that is what we have been about as a party all of my life.”

PHOTO: Marcus Villa/Latino Memphis
The vote means Tennessee students who are in the country illegally must pay two to three times higher than their counterparts who pay in-state tuition to public college.

Karla Meza, a recent high school graduate from Knox County, shared her story in hopes of swaying lawmakers on the fence. While most of her classmates at Powell High School could earn an associate’s degree for free through the Tennessee Promise, she pays nearly $10,000 a semester, or $697 per credit hour. Six credits short of an associate’s degree, Meza aspires to attend law school at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

“We’re all here today to better our future, better our state, better our families,” she said.

Rep. Johnnie Turner, a Democrat from Memphis who is black, said Meza’s struggle reminded her of her own experience as a young woman of being barred from attending many Tennessee schools because of her race.

Expanding college access has been a top priority in the legislature in recent years, and Turner said the bill was in the spirit of Drive to 55, a 2014 state initiative to boost the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees to 55 percent.

“The Drive to 55 didn’t say anywhere that we were going to discriminate against anybody,”she said. “Drive to 55 is for African-Americans, for Caucasians, for Hispanics, for all of the ethnic groups that make our state what it is.”

Arguing against the bill, Dawn White cited Georgia, which not only bars undocumented immigrants from receiving in-state tuition, but forbids them from enrolling in many state universities altogether. “Overcrowding is going happen,” she said. “We’ve thought long and hard about this, but you know, right is right, and wrong is wrong, and I cannot pass the burden onto taxpayers of Tennessee.”

In fact, the 20 states that already grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants have not seen noticeable upticks in illegal immigration. And Georgia has one of the highest undocumented populations in the nation.

Mark White acknowledged the current political climate, in which President Donald Trump campaigned to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to stem immigration. But he said his bill is about education, not immigration.

“If I didn’t believe this was the right thing to do, I would not put our committee through this, because it’s hard. With national politics, it’s hard. But we’ve got these young people who say, ‘I just want to have a chance,’” he said.

Meza said she was “kind of in shock” following Tuesday’s vote but still hopes to attend law school in Tennessee.

“It’s disappointing,” she said. “The fact is, we’ve been here, we graduated from Tennessee high schools, and we do pay money to the state.

PHOTO: Marcus Villa/Latino Memphis
Immigrant students supporting the bill pose with Gov. Bill Haslam and bill sponsors Rep. Mark White and Sen. Todd Gardenhire during a visit to the State Capitol in March.

Immigration

Did immigration agents get too close to a Denver school? City, district officials raise questions

Denver Post file.

Leaders from Denver’s city government, school district and court system have a message for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement: back off our schools and courthouses.

In a letter Thursday to the acting chief of the local ICE field office, officials including Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg asked that the agency follow its own policy in respecting such “sensitive locations” while carrying out their duties.

The letter in part was triggered by a March 14 incident that rattled one Denver school community.

That morning, federal immigration agents dressed in black arrived at a residence directly adjacent to Colorado High School Charter in west Denver, a neighborhood that is home to many immigrant families, according to the letter. The enforcement action, which was planned, came during morning drop-off in plain view of students and families, it said.

“We believe this enforcement action, particularly because it was scheduled  to occur during the morning drop-off period, may have violated both the letter and the spirit of your sensitive location policy,” the letter reads. “The hour and location of this action potentially put children, staff and parents in danger should your agents have encountered resistance, and clearly caused alarm to the principal and the community served by the school.”

The 2011 “sensitive location” policy discourages ICE agents from arresting, interviewing, searching or surveilling targets of investigations while they are in schools, places of worship, hospitals or at public demonstrations like marches and rallies. Exceptions are allowed if “exigent circumstances exist,” or other law enforcement actions have led officers to a sensitive location.

A memo laying out the policy also says ICE officers or agents should consult with supervisors if a planned enforcement operation “could reasonably be viewed as being at or near a sensitive location.”

Another aspect of the March 14 incident bothered authors of the letter to ICE. According to the letter, video taken during the incident shows ICE  agents wearing black uniforms with “POLICE” in large white letters and “ICE” in much smaller type. This, the letter said, can lead people to mistakenly think that local police are involved in immigration enforcement.

A Denver-based ICE spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Denver Public Schools has taken several steps to reassure immigrant families in the wake of President Trump’s election and his following through on campaign promises to adopt hard-line immigration policies.

The school board in February approved a resolution saying DPS will do everything “in its lawful power” in response to immigration enforcement to protect students’ confidential information and not disrupt learning. That includes continuing its policy of not collecting any information on students’ immigration status and involving DPS’s general counsel in any enforcement requests.

Alex Renteria, a DPS spokeswoman, said the principal of Colorado High School Charter contacted the City Council, not the school district. She said the district’s legal department could not recall other examples of ICE detentions near schools.

The principal of Colorado High School Charter, Clark Callaham, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The school is an alternative high school serving at-risk students. As of last fall, it had 350 students, 62 percent of whom are Hispanic, DPS data show. Many are from outside the district’s boundaries.

Boasberg said in a statement Thursday that the district is required by law “to ensure that our schools are safe spaces where a student’s race, ethnicity, religion and immigration status do not create any barriers to that child’s education.”

“We urge ICE to continue to respect our schools as sensitive locations so that our students know they are safe,” Boasberg said. “When they are confident in their safety, they will be more successful as students and their success as students is so vital to our shared success as a community.”