Commentary: Protect Immigrant Students from ICE

Commentary: Protect Immigrant Students from ICE

Fairfax County is poised to improve its policy governing law enforcement in schools significantly, but the current draft fails to protect immigrant students, and must be changed.

The matter is urgent because the policy on deployment of armed police School Resource Officers (SROs) to all public middle and high schools in the county is being considered at the School Board working meeting on Monday, July 23 and will be voted on at the Thursday, 7 p.m. Board meeting. It will be implemented with the start of the school year next month.

Those who support making schools off limits to immigration authorities should send emails to their School Board member and, most importantly, attend these upcoming meetings, which are open to the public.

Forced separation of immigrant youth from their families is not just happening at the border. Police in schools throughout the country are feeding information to federal immigration authorities about undocumented students.

Some examples:

  • In Long Island, N.Y.; SROs sent information to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on undocumented students they couldn’t arrest due to lack of evidence, leading to their arrest for deportation.

  • The Boston school system was sued over its sharing students’ info with ICE.

  • A child in Durham, N.C. was arrested on his way into school.

Immigrant students in Fairfax public schools fear that it can happen to them, too. Students and school counselors have reported that many immigrants avoid reporting crimes against them, or stay away from school altogether.

Unfortunately, the draft agreement between the police and school system does not prevent them from helping ICE. The deficits in this proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the police and public schools are two-fold:

  • The MOU gives law enforcement access to students and their information if they have a “warrant.” This can be read to include not just warrants issued by judicial authorities but so-called warrants issued administratively by ICE itself.

  • Police are not prohibited from giving information about students to ICE if it is included in “law enforcement records” created by SROs. These records are not subject to FERPA, the privacy law protecting student records. Even directory information on students is dangerous, because ICE can use addresses and other contact information to track down students and their families.

To remedy these deficits, ACLU People Power together with National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) propose that the School Board amend the draft MOU to require that ICE have a criminal warrant or subpoena issued by a court in order to:

  • obtain student information, including non-public directory information that could be used to locate household members

  • interview or search a student, or

  • arrest any student or their household members on school property.

Other progressive school systems across the nation (including New Haven, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles) have already addressed this concern.

It is time for Fairfax public schools to do so as well. If you agree, please make your voice heard.

Diane Burkley Alejandro is the lead advocate for ACLU People Power Fairfax. She was a member of the SRO Community Review Committee set up to provide input on the new MOU. This column first appeared in The BlueView,