Ogden immigrant advocates ask school reps for protections for undocumented kids

Monday , March 20, 2017 - 5:00 AM2 comments

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — A coalition of immigrant advocates have put a request to Ogden school officials: Make federal immigration officials give forewarning of action in schools and create a team to help students manage when their parents are detained on immigration charges.

“The political climate in the United States makes this proposal a matter of urgency,” said AnnaJane Arroyo, chairwoman of IMAGE de Northern Utah, one of four groups seeking the action. “Undocumented students and students of undocumented parents are being bullied and harassed in schools. They watch the news, they hear their parents and their neighbors and other children speaking of deportation, loss of their parents.”

The proposed resolution, she said, aims to counter the fear and provide protections in schools for undocumented students and kids of undocumented parents.

Arroyo and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and two Latino advocacy groups put the request to the Ogden School District Board of Education at the body’s meeting Thursday. The officials listened, but took no action, and Jer Bates, the district spokesman, said they’d take the request under advisement.

RELATED: Ogden officials, lawyers try to ease immigrants' jangled nerves

President Donald Trump’s talk of cracking down on undocumented immigrants has prompted uncertainty among immigrants and their family members here and around the country. In Northern Utah, the concern has been particularly pronounced in Ogden, given the immigrant population here, chiefly from Mexico.

The district “has made an effort to educate our families that our schools remain a safe place for all students,” Jeffrey Heiner, the school board president, told Arroyo and the others after their address. School district leaders, he went on, have advised school leaders on “steps to take to ensure the safety of students” should they face questioning or detention at school by law enforcement officials.

Arroyo and the others — representatives from Latinos United Promoting Education and Civic Engagement, or LUPEC, and Americans Coming Together for Immigrants in Ogden and Nationwide, or ACTION — didn’t single out an instance of immigration officials entering Ogden schools.

Barry Gomberg, a member of IMAGE and the ACLU of Utah Board of Directors, said he hopes reps from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, don’t have cause to go into Ogden schools. “But we don’t know what kind of era we’re living in now,” he said.

Prior to Thursday’s formal meeting, during a school board work session, board member Joyce Wilson referenced an incident involving U.S. officials outside a Salt Lake City school that immigrant advocates there have seized on. ICE officials showed up at the school on a Saturday, said Wilson, who consulted a school official in the city, but she characterized the incident as innocuous.

“There wasn’t a threat to anyone,” Wilson said.

As far as Bates knows, there’s never been an immigration enforcement action at an Ogden school. On Friday, he cautioned against overreaction.

“It is important to the district that our families do not fall victim to fear through misinformation and that they understand ICE policy is to treat schools as ‘sensitive locations,’ ” he said. Students and their families should “feel confident in the knowledge that we are committed to making our schools remain a safe place for all students.”

‘Safe school resolution’

Arroyo and the others ask that school officials adopt a measure, dubbed a “Safe School Resolution,” geared to undocumented students and the children of undocumented parents. The ACLU of Utah helped draft the resolution, said Gomberg, and it’s similar to a measure Salt Lake City immigrant activists are asking school officials there to approve.

Among other things, the resolution, as proposed, states that:

  • ICE reps and other immigration officials must notify the Ogden schools superintendent seven days ahead of any action on school grounds. That forewarning, it reads, will give district staff time to “take measures to provide emotional support for ALL students affected by the incident.”
  • Family of any student targeted by an ICE inquiry must be notified immediately by school reps and advised of the immigration officials’ plans so they “can prepare.”
  • District leaders must create a “rapid response team” to help students “deprived of adult care, supervision or guardianship outside of school due to a federal immigration enforcement action.”
  • School policy must be updated to reflect that all students are to be protected from discrimination or harassment in the district regardless of citizenship status.

LUPEC President Azenett Garza said worries about deportation can make children withdrawn and depressed, hampering their education. Passage of the resolution, Arroyo said, would send a message of support to students “regardless of immigration status.”

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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