The school board of the Los Angeles Unified School District unanimously adopted a resolution on Tuesday that bans US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from coming onto school property without permission — a move meant to signal to immigrant students and their families that they are secure while on campus.
ICE agents haven't attempted to look for students at the district's schools, but board members said that some families expressed concern after ICE detained more than 120 people last month in raids across the country that were meant to identify and deport illegal immigrants. This sparked rumors that raids were planned on Los Angeles schools, prompting LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King to issue a statement that said, "Neither the Los Angeles Unified School District nor the Los Angeles School Police Department is aware of any planned raids or other action by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at any LA Unified school site. The District welcomes all students and all families and is committed to supporting their right to live, learn and work in their communities."
LAUSD is the country's largest school district by enrollment, and has frequently advocated on behalf of its immigrant students, including calling on the federal government to pass immigration reform legislation.
Steve Zimmer, president of the LAUSD Board of Education, said that he and the other board members wanted to reassure worried families in passing the resolution.
"The vitriol and hate that presently permeates the immigration debate, combined with a regrettable change in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement practices, made it necessary for the Board of Education to take a strong stand in solidarity with our families and our communities," Zimmer said in a statement released after the vote. "Our message is simple and direct: our schools are safe, welcoming and embracing for all families."
The resolution specifically mandates that ICE agents must get approval from the school superintendent ahead of time if they need to visit campuses for a specific reason, such as evaluating a school's foreign exchange programs, but they will not be granted access on unannounced visits or given student data without clearance.
The resolution cited a "heightened sense of fear and anxiety" among district students and families, as well as the need for school grounds to welcome families who have questions about immigration. It instructed district staff to not inquire about a student's or family's immigration status or provide information about them to ICE.
Teresa Borden, a staff member at the immigration advocacy group Carecen, said that the group had consulted with the school board about the unease that January's ICE raids triggered in the immigrant community.
"When something like that occurs, it ignites fear — generalized fear in the community," she said. "There are parents who keep their children from school, parents who don't go to their jobs because of that fear."
Schools are one of the main places that immigrants interact with government bureaucracy, she said, so it's important to maintain trust between them. Caracen, which has had a long working relationship with LAUSD, regularly sends out advocacy teams to schools with high numbers of immigrant parents to explain to them what their rights are, and the group works to ensure that they continue allowing their children to attend school.
"We know that ICE has some internal directives that consider schools and churches sensitive locations, so they're not likely to raid those locations, but we also know that a lot of our community is not necessarily trusting of what an organization like ICE has to say given what their function is," Borden said, adding that advocates see the new resolution "as a very positive sign."
Zimmer echoed those concerns, saying that that parents should not be afraid to send their children to school or to fill out the necessary forms to participate in school activities. He also said the resolution demonstrated the board's opposition to the recent ICE raids and its "support of humane immigration reform."
Other school districts, including the San Francisco Unified School District, have also publicly promised not to allow immigration agents to carry out raids on school property.
"The San Francisco Unified School District, like the City of San Francisco, is a sanctuary. We do not ask students or families about their immigration status," SFUSD Superintendent Richard A. Carranza said in a statement last month. "We are committed to serving all children and to maintaining a safe and productive learning environment."
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