Equity & Diversity

Bracing for a Showdown Over Immigration Rights, DACA

By Corey Mitchell — June 30, 2017 4 min read
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As the Trump administration ramps up immigration enforcement, California educators and advocates are rolling out new tools designed to protect the rights of undocumented students.

The California Equity Leadership Alliance produced an online toolkit with resources for educators, administrators, school board members, and community advocates.

The California Charter Schools Association partnered with the Stanford University Law School to create, “Protecting Undocumented and Vulnerable Students,” a 21-page guide that outlines schools’ legal obligation to educate undocumented students and actions that schools can take to protect the rights of students. It also provide a how-to guide on school preparedness for undocumented families.

The how-to guides were released the same day the U.S. House of Representatives, at the behest of President Donald Trump, passed two bills to crack down on illegal immigration.

One bill would cut some grants from so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The other bill, popularly known as “Kate’s Law,” would impose tougher sentences on criminals who have entered the United States illegally multiple times.

On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and repeal a program that grants temporary protection to young immigrants who were illegally brought to the United States as children.

With Trump now in office, immigration advocates and school officials have been taking steps to protect the rights of undocumented students as the federal government continues to plant seeds for the aggressive immigration enforcement operations.

Girding for Battle

The California Equity Leadership Alliance —a group that includes the Association of California School Administrators and the Education Trust-West —issued a statement arguing that is “imperative that education organizations such as ours bridge this divide and do all we can to support the educators, administrators, and advocates who work with these students and their families every day.”

According to estimates from the groups, 250,000 school-age children are undocumented in the state, and at least 750,000 of the students—roughly one in 8—live with a parent who is undocumented.

Los Angeles Unified is among the school systems that have declared their school grounds as “safe” places, spaces, or zones for students, staff, and parents regardless of immigration status. The designation affirms that district leaders will do everything within their legal power to protect student privacy, including barring the release of information about immigration status unless there is parental consent, or if federal agents produce a warrant, subpoena, or similar court order.

Several California communities have gone to court to challenge Trump’s executive order that threatens to withhold federal funds from sanctuary jurisdictions.

This week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is among eight attorneys general who filed a Freedom of Information Act seeking records that would clarify how the Trump administration is enforcing federal immigration law. The request to the Department of Homeland Security seeks the number of immigration detentions, deportations, and detainer requests, and clarifying information on whether Trump is following through on comments that he will not immediately target recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provides protections for young people who were brought to the country illegally by their parents.

DACA Remains in Limbo

Created by President Barack Obama, DACA paved the way for more than 780,000 immigrants to receive two-year work authorizations and protection from deportation.

The program is safe for now, but its long-term status remains ‘under review,’ according to Homeland Security officials. Trump has yet to take action on DACA, but has promised to address the issue “with heart.”

Looking to force Trump’s hand, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and officials from 10 other states on Thursday threatened to sue the administration if DACA is not repealed.

The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and other civil rights groups have panned the push from the states to get rid of the program.

“Their evident xenophobia is not remotely consistent with the trajectory of our nation’s history and future progress,” MALDEF President Thomas Saenz said in a prepared statement. “Presidential authority does constitutionally extend to protecting DACA recipients, whom the president has repeatedly declared worthy of protection.”

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