Equity & Diversity

How Should Schools Respond to ICE Raids? Some Advice

By Corey Mitchell — August 09, 2019 4 min read

In the wake of the largest U.S. immigration raid in a decade, educators in Mississippi this week were left to console and support children with detained parents.

Now, school administrators and other educators across the country face the prospect that workplace raids could happen in their districts—and must address the fear and uncertainty that is likely gripping millions of their students.

Nationally, at least five million children have at least one parent who is undocumented, according to a 2017 report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Supporting those children, including efforts to provide mental health services and inform families and students of their rights, should be a priority even if the threat of a raid is not imminent, immigration and child advocates said.

“We know that families are under attack and it’s not a time for schools to be shy,” said Celina Moreno, the president and CEO of the Intercultural Development Research Association, a nonprofit focused on ensuring equal educational opportunity. “It’s a time for schools to proclaim very loudly that all of their students are valuable ... that they’re not expendable and their families are not expendable.”

School districts should also develop emergency plans so they’re not left scrambling if an immigration raid leaves children traumatized or homeless, Moreno said.

The association developed a 10-step guide to help schools and educators support children affected by Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. The recommendations include:


  • Make counselors, social workers, and other professionals available to help students and families who may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Identify bilingual liaisons who can, if needed, provide support and translation for students and families.
  • Designate safe spaces, such as school gyms, where students and families can wait for assistance if a parent is detained.
  • Provide the support and legal protections afforded by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act if students have no place to live.
  • Ensure that law enforcement officers are not on school grounds, unless needed, because their presence could re-traumatize students and discourage families from seeking support.

The National Immigration Law Center, United We Dream, First Focus, and the American Federation of Teachers also produced a guide for educators and support staff that provides guidance on how to help prepare students and families who could be impacted by raids.

The guide recommends that schools have conversations with parents about their rights and steps to take if a raid occurs or a family member is detained, including how to develop emergency plans that identify willing caregivers, and establishing power of attorney for those caregivers, if parents are detained or deported. But educators must tread with caution when having those conversations because, under federal law, they aren’t supposed to discuss or even ask about the immigration status of children or their family members.

“Given the atmosphere of debilitating fear, all of this has to take place in an atmosphere that is welcoming and voluntary and respectful of privacy,” said Thomas A. Saenz, the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

In the wake of the Mississippi workplace raids, school administrators in nearby districts reported that a higher-than-usual number of students were absent from class. Keeping law enforcement officers off campus can help keep students in school, and connected to services they need, Moreno said.

New evidence has emerged that cooperation between local law-enforcement officials and federal immigration authorities can drive immigrant students and their families from schools. A Stanford University study released last year found that cooperation between local law-enforcement officials and federal immigration authorities may have driven 300,000 Hispanic children from their schools between 2000 and 2011, a period that predates the Trump administration.

To help reassure families, Moreno and Saenz said schools should consider re-affirming policies that outline how schools will do everything within their legal power to protect student privacy and keep immigration officers off campus: the 2012 Immigration and Customs Enforcement memorandum--known as the “sensitive locations” memo--prohibits agents from conducting enforcement activities on school campuses unless high-ranking federal authorities give prior approval.

Research from the Urban Institute and Migration Policy Institute found that children with deported or detained immigrant parents face difficulty accessing early education, health care, and social services.

“Hopefully, school districts have been reinforcing for a couple of years that school is for everyone and that schools are safe locations,” Saenz said.

Image: Two people are taken into custody at a Koch Foods Inc. plant in Morton, Miss., on Wednesday after U.S. immigration officials raided several Mississippi food processing plants as part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as employees. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

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