Schools receive guidance on interactions with ICE agents

Schools receive guidance on interactions with ICE agents

(Calif.) Following weeks of high profile arrests and deportations of undocumented immigrants, the California School Boards Association is reminding districts of their rights in dealing with immigration enforcement agents–notably, that school officials are not required to do so.

The guidance released Sunday uses an interpretation of a Supreme Court ruling to explain why schools do not need to question children about citizenship status or share records with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

“California’s public schools have a unique mission to help all students succeed in college, career and civic life,” Keith Bray, general counsel for CSBA and director of the Education Legal Alliance. “This responsibility is reinforced, in a legal context, by the landmark Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe. In that ruling, the Court held that school districts must not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and that students not be barred from enrolling in schools on the basis of their immigration status or that of their parents.”

Renewed attention to the rights and responsibilities of school districts that educate undocumented students stems from recent immigration sweeps prompted by the Trump administration’s call to crack down on illegal immigration.

Although there are no reports of immigration agents stepping on to school grounds, some aggressive actions have been chronicled elsewhere. In Seattle earlier this month, a 23-year-old with no criminal record was taken into custody by ICE officers at his father’s home despite being granted temporary permission to live and work legally in the country under a program called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program, established in 2012 by the Obama administration, protects those who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children from deportation.

The following week in California, a 44-year-old father of three who had worked as a gardener leaped off a bridge near the Tijuana-San Diego border crossing and killed himself hours after being deported–an act which spurred further calls for action from various immigrant advocacy groups.

In order to avoid deportation arrests on school grounds and to create a safe learning environment for all kids, the CSBA guidance contends that education officials are within their legal rights to deny student records to ICE agents without parental consent under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Additionally, it is recommended that school officials not inquire about a student’s immigration status, or require a social security number, or other documentation that discourages undocumented students from enrolling in school in the first place.

Authors note that currently, under a policy implemented by Obama in 2011, ICE and border patrol agents are urged to “generally avoid” enforcement actions at “sensitive locations,” such as schools, health care facilities, places of worship, weddings or funerals–a policy that may not continue under the current administration.

Until that policy changes, if it does, districts are still allowed to notify parents, students and the public of the limitation of federal enforcement activities on school sites. The guidance also points out that the California Education Code provides that schools can turn away ICE or border patrol agents during school hours in order to limit disruptions on campus.

The CSBA’s guidance echoes messaging sent to districts by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in December, which urged school leaders to declare their campuses a “safe haven” for students and their parents. more