LAUSD clarifies what school staff should do if immigration agents show up on campus

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Los Angeles Unified School Board members have clarified what staff on the district's campuses are supposed to do if federal immigration agents show up at their campus.

In February 2016, when they declared L.A. Unified campuses as immigration "safe zones," the board had already directed school employees to alert district higher-ups of any request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

But in case the implication wasn't already clear, board members passed a resolution Tuesday to make it even more plain: school employees are not to comply with ICE requests until those higher-up officials — the superintendent and the district's top lawyers — complete their review.

Since 2011, ICE’s enforcement guidelines have advised against conducting raids, arrests or interviews at "sensitive sites," such as schools or churches, but many fear that policy might change under the Trump administration.

The resolution is the third L.A. Unified board members have passed in the past 15 months in an effort to shield unauthorized immigrant students or their families from immigration agents.

But Sylvia Torres-Guillén, the ACLU of California's director of education equity, points to this clarification about employees' responsibilities as one example of what makes Tuesday's resolution the 'strongest' and clearest yet.

"It reinforces that information about what you are not allowed to do … whereas before, it may have been thought of as discretionary," said Torres-Guillén. "I think that's an important distinction."

In some ways, Tuesday's resolution is redundant. District policy already prohibits L.A. Unified employees from asking any student or family member about their citizenship or immigration status; the new resolution reiterates that policy. The board's previous resolutions directed Superintendent Michelle King to create "rapid response" networks and offer "Know Your Rights" trainings to immigrants.

If anything, Tuesday's resolution is the longest L.A. Unified board members have passed to date, closely following the language of the ACLU's model "safe schools" resolution.

“Ideally, this would be more of a deterrence from ICE so that they don’t interfere with children or their ability to learn,” Torres-Guillén said.

The resolution also prevents district staff from entering any information-sharing agreements with immigration enforcement officials unless required by law.

Despite previous reassurances from district officials, fear among students and parents that stepped-up immigration enforcement will have direct impacts on their school campuses remains widespread.

Among those who came to L.A. Unified headquarters to support the resolution were the children of Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, the man who made national news when he was picked up by ICE agents while driving his daughters Yuleni and Fatima Avelica to school.

“We want kids not to be scared to go to school," said Yuleni, a seventh grader.

The school board's student representative, Hamilton High School senior Karen Calderon, who sits at the board table but normally only has an advisory vote, took the unusual step of asking to be named as a co-sponsor of the resolution.

"It’s something very near to my heart," she said, "because one of my closest friends is undocumented and considered no longer going to her top choice for college because it’s out of state and she was afraid of what would happen if she would leave California …

"This," Calderon said of her vote, "is for students like her trying to get a quality education in the United States because their parents came here, because they came here in hopes of a better life, in hopes of a better future."

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