Immigration crackdown plants fear among students, families

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As President Trump's anti-immigrant campaign message moves from heated rhetoric to action, students and their families are increasingly fearful. Teachers and faculty are witnessing their distress in schools and on college campuses, and many are joining efforts to ensure undocumented students, refugees and those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status are prepared in case Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers raid their homes.

#daywithoutlatinosMarchers on Milwaukee’s Day Without Latinos turned out in droves and included AFT faculty and staff from Milwaukee Area Technical College. Local 212 photo.

Although Trump says his intention is to deport only criminals at this time, law-abiding immigrants and even those with DACA, which allows them to live and work legally in the United States, have reason to worry. Raids directed at people with criminal convictions or deportation orders have included arrests of people who happened to be at the scene, so people without serious criminal records are being swept up. Immigration authorities recently detained a 23-year-old Mexican man with DACA status at his father's home in Seattle. The man, Daniel Ramirez Medina, is the father of a 3-year-old boy and, according to court papers (as reported by Reuters), has no criminal record.

"There is tremendous anxiety among immigrant students across the country," says Kent Wong, vice president of the California Federation of Teachers. As the director of the UCLA Labor Center, Wong works closely with undocumented and "DACAmented" students, many of whom have joined rallies and protests to protect immigrant rights. Because of Trump's promise to deport millions of immigrants, and with the recent ICE raids—680 people were arrested across the country, including 160 in Southern California, during a recent sweep—"all of them are making plans to try to secure the safety of their families," Wong says. "They are helping to disseminate know-your-rights information so that in the event of an immigration raid there will be emergency procedures and immigration attorneys available. There is tremendous fear in immigrant communities."

Even in Baltimore, not a target of recent raids, undocumented students are anxious about the precarious status of their families, says Baltimore Teachers Union member Jose Torres. "There are a lot of worried students," he says. "There's so much being made of deportations on the news, so that adds to their anxiety." Teachers are also mindful of the impact the anti-immigrant climate has on the lives of the 4.1 million U.S.-born children living with at least one undocumented parent or family member.

Fighting back

Teachers, faculty and their unions are fighting back. In Milwaukee, members of Local 212, at Milwaukee Area Technical College, joined thousands on the #DayWithoutLatinos, supporting immigrants who shut down their businesses and left work to show how reliant communities are on their contributions. The action protested the local sheriff's threat to deputize local law enforcement officers as immigration agents. Meanwhile, Milwaukee County's board of supervisors and county executive are more supportive of immigrants, and the board recently passed an anti-discrimination resolution.

#daywithoutlatinos by Susan RugglesThousands showed up to protest the local sheriff’s threat to deputize law enforcement officers to act as ICE agents in Milwaukee. Photo by Susan Ruggles.

In Austin, Texas, where 51 people were detained by ICE agents on Feb. 9 and 10, Education Austin has sponsored workshops and distributed fliers to make sure families know their rights and understand what to do in case of an ICE raid.

"I see it as providing resources to families in need," Montserrat Garibay, vice president of Education Austin, told the Austin American-Statesman. "We sent it to the members so they can share it with their students. This is a crisis and families are scared. And when we have students in crisis, whether it's a hurricane or other crisis, we give them information on what they can do. As educators, it is our moral and ethical responsibility to provide them information that can help."

Houston Community College adopted a resolution vowing to protect all of its students, regardless of national origin or immigration status. "This is standing up to make sure every student has access to a great public school or university that is safe and welcoming, focused on the well-being of students," said Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers and a trustee at the college, at a press conference there. "That's what we owe our students, and we will stand united against any effort to undermine public education."

Also in Houston, Lone Star College is holding workshops to prepare students for possible challenges to their immigration status; AFT members there are helping by making sure their students know about the resources available to them.

Pledging to protect

Hundreds of college campuses, school districts, cities, counties and even states have pledged to protect undocumented and DACAmented students, though some have stopped short of declaring themselves "sanctuaries" because they fear Trump will withhold federal funds. The legality of such a move is questionable. Typically, the schools and jurisdictions that declare themselves sanctuaries prohibit local law enforcement personnel from asking about immigration status, and prohibit administrators from sharing immigration records without official requests and/or warrants.

In New Jersey, faculty and staff members of Rutgers AAUP-AFT led a petition for sanctuary, and Rutgers University has since approved measures to protect students. "I do not take fingerprints at my classroom door, I do not check passports, and my classroom is open to anybody and everybody who is willing to learn," Rutgers AAUP-AFT President David Hughes told students. "In order to get to students, the Trump administration would have to go through the faculty, and that's how many of us feel."

Wong, at the UCLA Labor Center, says plans for the center's annual Dream Summer internship program for DACA students are already underway and focused on building sanctuary and safe spaces on campuses, in churches, in unions and in community organizations that will stand with immigrants.

"Criminalizing immigrants, shutting down our southern border and turning away people seeking refuge based on religion or nationality runs contrary to the fabric of this great nation, which was founded by immigrants fleeing tyranny and persecution," says AFT President Randi Weingarten. "We will continue to stand up for our students, their families and our communities. And we will stand against enforcement measures that generate widespread fear, encourage discrimination and institutionalize racial profiling."

For more information and resources, visit the AFT's website.

[Virginia Myers/photos by Susan Ruggles]