Deportations and School Life

By Mary Ann Zehr — November 06, 2007 2 min read
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With some communities seemingly making up immigration policy as they go these days, I’ve been reading more news stories about how schools are involved in actions by immigration authorities. I recently tried to answer the question in Education Week: What is a school to do in such situations?

The latest incident involves a mother and two sons in Tucson, Ariz., who were deported (technically, they were “voluntarily returned”) to their native Mexico after police found one of the sons to possess marijuana at school, according to an Associated Press story published today. The article said the boy’s father was being held for formal deportation because he had been apprehended previously by Border Patrol.

A follow-up article by the Associated Press filed this afternoon gives a few more details. It says that school officials called police after discovering what they suspected to be marijuana in the 17-year-old’s backpack on the campus of Catalina High School. When the parents arrived, police asked them to show drivers’ licenses, and the parents acknowledged that they, their teenage son, and a 6th-grade son were undocumented. Police then notified U.S. Border Patrol officials, who took the parents and two sons into custody. The second article also notes that about a hundred students from Catalina High School demonstrated today to protest the removal of their classmate and his family to Mexico.

Should the police have asked to see drivers’ licenses and called in Border Patrol officials?

I put this question to Michael A. Olivas, a law professor at the University of Houston and a board member of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“As best I can tell,” he said in an e-mail message, “there is no memorandum of understanding in place that would have allowed [police] to do this, nor was it necessary in the short fact pattern here, to do so. The drugs are a problem, of course, but this seems overly aggressive and unnecessary. They are sacrificing their community policing responsibilities and trust-building with that community, which has larger consequences, for a single arrest and removal.”

He pointed me to a list of communities that have memorandums of agreement between police and immigration authorities.

In reporting my earlier story, I learned that the Border Patrol has a policy saying that Border Patrol agents, who work for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, must have written approval from a supervisor before conducting any enforcement-related activity at schools or places of worship. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement—which falls under a different branch of the U.S. Homeland Security Department than Border Patrol—has a policy that “arresting fugitives at schools, hospitals, or places of worship is strongly discouraged, unless the alien poses an immediate threat to national security or the community.”

Nevertheless, I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of these kinds of incidents.

Nov. 7 update: The Associated Press reports today that Arizona Border Patrol agents will no longer be called to campuses of Tucson Unified School District. The article says the policy change came out of a meeting yesterday between the Tucson police department and school district officials, who requested the meeting.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.