With educators dealing with rising absenteeism and witnessing students' struggles surrounding fears of deportation, New Mexico teachers and administrators in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque are learning what to do if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers show up at their schools, according to The Hechinger Report. Rebekah Wolf, immigration lawyer with the New Mexico Immigration Law Center, offers sessions on what ICE can and cannot do in schools.
In the "know your rights" sessions, teachers are taught that they have the right to not answer ICE agents' questions and to talk about their presence, but it's illegal to lie to them or to hide students from immigration officials. Wolf also says districts should consider resources such as school immigration liaisons in supporting immigrant families.
In addition, schools are among the labeled "sensitive locations" that ICE is supposed to avoid under an existing Obama-era policy, The Hechinger Report notes, and certain municipalities — including Santa Fe — hold sanctuary status that bars its employees from giving information to ICE unless legally mandated to with a judicial warrant.
Many undocumented students and their families are living in fear of deportation. Schools, and especially teachers and administrators, are in unique positions to help, and as Wolf described to The Hechinger Report, administrators have the power to ramp up services to support these groups.
Early engagement, as well as creating positive and supportive environments, can help young children feel safer at school and curb the risks what could turn into negative mental health. Openly encouraging and endorsing diversity is also a step that administrators and teachers can take with students and their families through hosting activities, events and dialogues. Districts can also help families prepare their own emergency plan that provides for care and financial resources for children in the event that a parent were to be deported.
The Hechinger Report notes that many educators ask how far they are able to go to protect students and their families. In “sanctuary” districts, officials work to protect immigrant students' privacy, which includes barring the release about a student's immigration status without a parent’s consent. However, while districts can protect their students’ privacy to a certain extent, ICE agents have legal authority to enforce immigration law, and campuses must cooperate with federal law.
The anxiety and fear associated with deportation and detainment often keeps students out of schools, affecting their school and learning experiences as a result. Seven percent of U.S. children are born to parents who don’t have legal immigration status, leaving thousands of families vulnerable to the recent crackdown in federal policy. Districts that take no action to protect these families often see a spike in absenteeism from this population after a local ICE raid, and while they can't control if or when ICE comes knocking, administrators can make a difference in helping those who might be affected.