The Anaheim high school board unanimously voted Tuesday to declare the school district a safe haven for students regardless of their immigration status.
“I go to school scared sometimes, sometimes I don’t even want to go to school knowing ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] might be there waiting for one of us to go by,” said Manuel Romero, an undocumented student at Loara High School told the Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD) board at the meeting.
A number of school districts and cities nationwide have taken similar actions to address fears among immigrant communities in the wake of renewed immigration enforcement by President Donald J. Trump’s administration. In Orange County, Anaheim joins the Santa Ana and Garden Grove Unified School Districts and Anaheim Elementary School District in declaring their support for undocumented students.
The resolution adopted by AUHSD largely outlines existing laws that prohibit schools from sharing student information and reminding federal authorities of their own policy not to conduct enforcement activities at schools and other sensitive locations.
The district’s action also comes as media reports of arrests by immigration authorities in front of churches and schools have stoked fears among immigrant communities.
The Anaheim resolution, which was proposed by Trustees Al Jabbar and Anne-Marie Randall-Trejo, reaffirms that the district will not provide immigration authorities any student records that might be used to determine legal status; declares the district a safe place for families to seek information and assistance; and promotes diversity within the school district.
Students and representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and the church-based grassroots organizing group, Orange County Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO), spoke in favor of the resolution.
“In every class that I have, there are one to three undocumented students,” said Jose Magcalas, a Loara High School history teacher and board trustee for the Anaheim Elementary School District. “I’m glad you have this resolution so at least they can feel safe at school.”
The students are calling on the school board to create a task force and opportunities for students and parents to discuss the resolution and inform the community of what protections the district can and can’t offer.
“We hear you, we hear your families,” said district Superintendent Michael Matsuda at a press conference organized by OCCCO before the board meeting. “In these challenging times more than ever we need to build trust…we only go as far as those who are least privileged.”
Federal law under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act already prohibits school districts from providing third parties – including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – information in student records. Federal authorities also cannot come on campuses without a warrant, said district spokeswoman Patricia Karlak.
The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plyler v. Doe also ensures that all children in the United States are entitled to a K-12 education regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.
The resolution doesn’t offer undocumented students additional legal protections, and it is illegal under federal law to intentionally harbor and shield unauthorized immigrants from detection. But the resolution, school officials say, will serve to quell anxiety and assure students and families that the school district is a supportive and safe place to talk and ask for help.
“I don’t know if this is going to take away all the fears…but I hope it will be a solace to all of you that AUHSD is behind you,” said Jabbar. “We as a school district, we want to assure your only concern should be educating yourself.”
The district has held five town hall meetings with the city, police department and nonprofit groups to answer questions about the effect of immigration changes, which district staff say were well attended by Latino and Asian American parents.
Karlak said the district has “no way of knowing” how many undocumented students are in the district but said such students have “a big presence in our district.”
Although neither the city of Anaheim or school district have estimates of their undocumented population, there are an estimated 300,000 unauthorized immigrants in Orange County, according to the Public Policy Center of California.
According to 2014 numbers, 66 percent of students enrolled in the Anaheim high school district are Hispanic; 13 percent Asian American; 4 percent Filipino; 2.8 percent African American; and 13 percent Caucasian. A fifth of students are English language learners.
The children of undocumented immigrants represent a growing number of students in the U.S. school system, according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center. About 3.9 million K-12 students in public and private schools in 2014, 7.3% of the total, were children of unauthorized immigrants.
Trump has threatened to revoke federal funding for sanctuary cities and jurisdictions, although it’s unknown whether or not the administration will carry out that promise. Karlak said most of the district’s federal funding is to support special education and impoverished students.
“The district isn’t in the business of not welcoming students. We welcome all students. It’s the law. It’s morally correct, and we will continue to represent this viewpoint,” Karlak said.
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