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Letter To The Editor: Support Our School Board ... Support Our Students

on November 25, 2017 - 6:23am
Los Alamos

In the recent flurry of letters to the editor on the Los Alamos School Board’s immigration proposal, it’s evident there’s some confusion over where the board is in the process, as well as what the resolution actually calls for. To clarify: In October, the School Board unanimously voted to approve a resolution to protect students from the threat of increased federal immigration enforcement.

The next step, what was discussed at the last meeting and will be discussed at the next one, is ironing out the specifics of the policy. That text will next go to legal review before it is put up for a vote. The part people may have missed in all the discussion is that this policy is instructional rather than political, laying out existing law and setting procedures for what staff and teachers will do if they are confronted with immigration officials.

For those questioning the necessity of this resolution: it was a response to a very real increase in fear regarding the status of immigrant families. A middle-school teacher, for example, told me her students are being bullied by other students, who taunt them with threats like, “ICE is coming for you; they’re taking you away.” Kids are anxious, both for themselves and for their parents. Kids who aren’t immigrants are afraid for their friends who are. Teachers are fearful, too.

Schools are in a difficult position. They must balance a commitment to ensuring students’ safety and privacy with an obligation to comply with federal officials—as is required by law. By limiting immigration authorities' access to campuses and by providing information to families on their rights, schools can accomplish both those goals.

The proposal mandates nothing illegal: it is settled law (per a 1982 Supreme Court decision) that states cannot deny students a free public education on account of their immigration status. It is also standing Department of Homeland Security policy that schools, churches, and other “sensitive locations” are off-limits for ICE agents.

The Los Alamos School Board policy complies with federal policy, and echoes other school policies in New Mexico, by affirming a commitment to all students that their safety and security is paramount. The proposal states that, if immigration agents appear on campus in search of one or more students, school staff must notify the superintendent and not give the agents any information on the students' whereabouts.

 If immigration enforcement arrives with the proper warrants, they may proceed. If they want access to students, they must simply go through the district office first. As school-board secretary Ellen Ben-Naim put it, this resolution and the supporting policies and regulations would “express support for a vulnerable population.” That’s all.

The School Board already voted, unanimously, to pass the resolution. The next steps are to work out the finer details of how to put the resolution into practice. The time for debating whether the resolution should pass is gone. Let’s support our vulnerable students. Let’s support the School Board as they move forward with this proposal.