Politics & Government

ICE raids put undocumented students in ‘fear,’ activists say. They’re asking Wake schools for help.

Teacher asks Wake County to make schools safe for undocumented students

America Moreno Jimenez, a Raleigh high school teacher, urges the Wake County school board on Feb. 19, 2019 to do more to reassure undocumented students in the face of increased ICE raids.
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America Moreno Jimenez, a Raleigh high school teacher, urges the Wake County school board on Feb. 19, 2019 to do more to reassure undocumented students in the face of increased ICE raids.

Community activists, including some teachers, are urging the Wake County school system to do more to reassure families of undocumented students who are worried about increased ICE arrests of illegal immigrants.

Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained more than 200 people this month across the state who are believed to be living in the country illegally. Several activists urged the Wake County school board on Tuesday to pass a resolution declaring schools as safe zones for undocumented students and to make it harder for ICE agents to get information from schools.

“We want you to assure our immigrant families that schools are a safe place and a sanctuary for them,” said Fernando Martinez, an organizer for the Education Justice Alliance, a group that advocates for minority students. “Not even their apartments or their houses are any longer safe for them. ICE is terrorizing our communities, literally terrorizing our communities.”

Leaders of some other North Carolina school districts, including Durham and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, have spoken out about the ICE raids. But Wake school board chairman Jim Martin said no decision has been made yet about passing a resolution or issuing a statement. But he said Wake has already put policies in place to protect undocumented students so they can get an education.

“Rather than make political statements, we’ve made sure policies are clear to protect students and protect the constitutionally guaranteed right to an education regardless of a student’s national status,” Martin said in an interview Wednesday.

In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students are guaranteed the right to attend public schools regardless of their immigration status. But undocumented students and their family members can still be deported.

Under ICE policy, schools are considered to be “sensitive locations,” where arrests or interviews are generally not made.

Concerns in the immigrant community escalated this month following the new raids. ICE officials cited how sheriffs in some large North Carolina counties, including Wake, Durham and Mecklenburg, are no longer notifying them about the legal status of inmates in county jails.

In a news conference this month, ICE Atlanta Field Office Director Sean Gallagher called ICE actions the “new normal,” The News & Observer previously reported.

“This is the direct conclusion of dangerous policies of not cooperating with ICE,” Gallagher said at the news conference. “This forces my officers to go out onto the street to conduct more enforcement.”

Sean Gallagher, Atlanta Field Office Director for U.S. ICE, talks about the increased arrests his office is making and attributed it to Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden's cancellation of the 287g program at the jai.

In the aftermath of the raids, Durham Superintendent Pascal Mubenga issued a statement saying that the district will continue to honor its policy of “ensuring that every one of our students, regardless of their or their family’s immigration status, receives a quality education in a welcoming environment.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Clayton Wilcox gave a speech talking about how students are “stressed, anguished and sleep-deprived” because of the ICE raids, the Charlotte Observer reported. Wilcox also said he’d provide resources to schools to help students deal with the anxiety.

Seven North Carolina mayors, including the mayors of Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro, signed a letter condemning the ICE raids, The News & Observer previously reported.

Several activists, accompanied by eight teachers, hoped for a similar response this week from Wake school leaders.

America Moreno Jimenez, a teacher of English as a Second Language at Sanderson High School in Raleigh, told the school board about the fear she’s seeing among her students. Jimenez made national headlines in 2018 when she was among the “Dreamers” in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program who attended the State of the Union address.

“We have made promises to ourselves and to the public education profession to teach all of the students who sit in our classrooms as well as to teach those who will be absent in the coming weeks due to fear,” Jimenez said. “Fear that they won’t see their parents when they get home. Fear that they will be rounded up at the bus stop.

“Fear that their dad will be arrested in the carpool line. Who can think about homework when this fear hangs over them?”

Jimenez urged the school board to pass a resolution declaring the district’s schools to be a “safe zone” from ICE agents. She also asked for changes in board policy so that requests for information from ICE agents would be treated differently than from other law enforcement agencies.

Martin, the school board chairman, pointed to how law enforcement officers who are not school resource officers would need a warrant to interact with students on campus. The school board had modified its policy two years ago after activists pressed for a safe zone resolution in 2017.

“Unless there’s a mandatory warrant, immigration has no place on campus,” Martin said. “That’s what our policy states.”

While the board didn’t pass a resolution, individual members spoke out Tuesday in support of the immigrant community. School board member Monika Johnson-Hostler talked about how her 13-year-old daughter is worried about classmates she knows and loves.

“What we’re experiencing isn’t a just and safe environment for all people,” Johnson-Hostler said. “The mayors who signed on to stand in solidarity against the ICE raids said it best. ‘Fear and terror harm everyone.’

“I think regardless of where people stand or what they believe, it’s important that we recognize that every singe person is being impacted.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.