Democrats in the U.S. House have introduced legislation that would bar immigration agents from conducting arrests, interviews, searches, or surveillance at schools and school bus stops—except in extreme circumstances.
Current guidelines for Immigration and Customs Enforcement already categorize schools and other venues and events including hospitals, places of worship, funerals, and weddings as “sensitive locations.”
The Protecting Sensitive Locations Act would enshrine those guidelines for ICE in federal law and expand the list of locations that would be banned from ICE activity to include bus stops with children, as well as federal, state and local courthouses.
“Individuals in this country should be able to access places essential to their health, education, and welfare—like hospitals, churches and schools—without fear of deportation or separation from their families,” U.S. Rep. José Serrano, a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “We’ve seen an alarming number of deportation cases that originated at these locations in recent years.”
Democrats introduced similar legislation in spring 2017, but it stalled in the Republican-controlled House. Now that Democrats are in the majority, the leaders are hoping the bill gains some traction.
Even if the legislation were to become law, it may not fully clear up the confusion around the obligations that schools must balance when dealing with immigration agents: ensuring the safety and privacy of their students while still cooperating with federal officials.
In some so-called “sanctuary” school districts, school board resolutions have designated school grounds as safe spaces and set clear limits on immigration authorities’ access to campuses. But many of those resolutions also make clear that campus police will assist federal agents as required by law.
Immigrant Students Have Rights
Backed by lawmakers from immigrant-rich congressional districts in Illinois, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington state, the “sensitive locations” bill is part of a package of legislation that also calls for immediate reunification of children who were separated from their parents or legal guardians as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
The rollout of the bills came the day after remarks from President Donald Trump, in his State of the Union speech, claimed that illegal immigration has “overburdened schools.”
“What we witnessed during the State of the Union address was more of the same—criminalizing immigrants, promoting inhumane policies that separate children from their families and raid sensitive locations such as public schools and courthouses,” U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York, the leader sponsor of the “sensitive locations” bill, said in a statement.
Existing federal law already offers some protection for immigrant students. The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe makes clear that schools and districts cannot adopt enrollment policies that deny or discourage children from enrolling because of immigration status. That means that a school district cannot refuse to enroll a student because he or she does not have a birth certificate, bar a student because of a foreign place of birth, or require a driver’s license or state-issued identification from a parent.
Trump’s tough talk on immigration, including his vow to deport millions of undocumented residents, has rattled refugee and immigrant students across the country, affecting everything from enrollment to academic performance.
A 2018 national survey from the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that nearly 80 percent of educators reported having students who have experienced emotional or behavioral problems because they are concerned about immigration enforcement.
Lawyers say schools can support students by limiting immigration authorities’ access to campuses and providing information to families on their rights under district and federal policies.
Photo Credit: Donald Trump, on the campaign trail in July 2016, waves from his vehicle during a tour of the World Trade International Bridge along the U.S.-Mexico border in Laredo, Texas.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.