Existing protections for students are not affected
By Marcy Stamper
In the wake of executive orders signed by President Trump that expand enforcement of immigration laws, local and state school officials have been scrambling to reassure families that all children — regardless of immigration status — are entitled to an education in Washington.
“Our state’s public education system exists to help our students learn. It does not function, nor will it function, as an arm of federal immigration services,” said the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) in a letter to all school districts.
Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable made clear that the issue is as important in the Methow Valley as in districts that have more diverse student bodies.
“While it would be easy to assume this isn’t a significant issue when comparing ourselves to neighboring school districts with higher levels of racial diversity, we know that children who feel unsafe can’t access learning,” he said by email.
“We do everything we can to honor diversity within our schools and community, protect their rights, and ensure our schools remain a safe place for all,” said Venable.
Washington law prohibits discrimination, including discrimination based on national origin, said OSPI. “OSPI is committed to our state’s constitutional requirement that students are to be educated ‘without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex,’” they said.
OSPI also cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1982 that guarantees access to education for all children. In the Plyler v. Doe case, the justices ruled that undocumented students have the same right to attend public schools as U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
As a result of the Plyler decision, schools cannot deny admission to a student on the basis of immigration status, nor ask questions of students or parents that could expose their undocumented status. Schools also cannot require students or parents to provide Social Security numbers.
The North Central Educational Service District (NCESD) has also been fielding questions from concerned school districts. Rich McBride, superintendent of the NCESD, said he specifically asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “if they anticipate any enforcement actions at the school house door.”
The district checked with DHS to see if there had been any change to policies that limit enforcement actions at what are called “sensitive locations,” said McBride in a letter to regional school districts.
Sensitive locations, also called “safe spaces,” include schools, day care centers, school-bus stops, hospitals, places of worship, and public demonstrations and rallies. DHS does not conduct immigration-enforcement actions in sensitive locations, according to a DHS fact sheet.
Both the Wenatchee and state DHS offices said these limits are still in effect and they have no indication of any impending changes, said McBride.
Outside safe zones
While schools are designated as safe spaces, because the president’s executive order expands the list of individuals who can be targeted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a student’s parents or other family members could be detained while a child is at school.
If someone is arrested, he or she would be brought to an intake center and would be able to make a phone call to be sure children are taken care of, said Rose Richeson, a public affairs officer with ICE. Parents typically fill out emergency-contact forms when they register their children for school, which would also contain provisions for children if something happened to the parents, she said.
ICE’s community relations officer has been talking with community groups in recent months to remind people who may not have all the necessary documents “to be sure they have thought through all the potential scenarios,” said Richeson.
The Methow Valley School District didn’t point to specific provisions to handle these emergency scenarios. But Kelleigh McMillan, the district’s mentorship coordinator and family empowerment counselor, said, “The district’s student and family support team is available to support students and their families on these and any other issues that may serve as challenges or barriers to the potential of their educational experience.” A student’s citizenship status has no relevance to his or her right to an education, she said.
At the end of February, DHS published fact sheets outlining the new guidelines for carrying out the president’s executive orders. The guidelines make clear that anyone in violation of immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings — up to and including removal from the U.S. Enforcement proceedings prioritize those convicted of a crime.
Expedited removal has focused on individuals within 100 miles of the border, according to the fact sheets. The orders have expanded expedited removal to include individuals who haven’t been present in the U.S. for two years before being found inadmissible, unless the person is an unaccompanied minor or intends to apply for asylum.
Although detention space may be limited at times, ICE is committed to arresting and processing all removable aliens, they said.
The new guidelines do not affect recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program for people who came to the U.S. as children without lawful status, according to DHS.
Sheriff’s deputies are responsible for enforcing only state and county laws and “don’t worry about immigration status,” which is a federal matter, said Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers.
“We don’t handle federal law,” just the way the county sheriff would not have jurisdiction if someone cut down trees in the national forest, said Rogers. “To be here illegally is not a crime, per se.”
Officers with ICE or the U.S. Border Patrol check the status of people booked into the county jail, generally every day, said Rogers. After local charges have been completed, ICE takes over, said Rogers, who said the policy been if effect for some time and hasn’t changed.
Rogers said there are instances where sheriff’s deputies they have arrested the same undocumented individual half a dozen times for felonies or drug offenses. ICE deports the person, but he may turn up again, Rogers said.
Since Trump issued the executive orders, Twisp Police Chief Paul Budrow has also been receiving calls from concerned community members.
“Immigration status is not something we really would look into” when stopping someone for a traffic infraction or if we find an individual does not have a valid drivers’ license, said Budrow.
When he is on foot patrol and sees someone who appears to be new in town (as opposed to a tourist), Budrow generally introduces himself and makes casual conversation.
“I always say, ‘Hi, welcome to the valley,’” said Budrow. But he has no right to ask for identification and the individual does not have to converse with him, he said.
“Nothing’s going to change in our world — the local police aren’t allowed to do that and say, ‘Show me your green card,’” he said.