VICTORY! Miami Dade School Board says NO to ICE in Schools

Dozens of parents, children and community leaders packed Miami Dade County Public School (M-DCPS) headquarters on  Tuesday, March 15, to urge the School Board to strongly reaffirm its commitment to immigrant students and families, regardless of immigration status.

Jasmine Lopez, 10 years old member of American Friends Service Committee in Miami, addresses the Miami-Dade School Board.  Photo by Lis-Marie Alvarado

“We have to prevent and protect our immigrant families from being separated,” said 10-year old Jasmine Lopez, member of American Friends Service Committee in Miami and U.S. citizen whose mother is a DACA recipient. “Our people didn’t come here to harm anybody, they came to give their children a better life.”

In the end, the School Board unanimously voted to pass Board Member Lubby Navarro’s resolution so that there would be no doubt from parents and staff that M-DCPS schools are safe havens. The measure would also review current laws and district policies to determine what else the district can do to protect undocumented immigrant students.

M-DCPS Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho was clear that he saw the measure as a continuation of policies and actions that school administrators had traditionally held on the issue, including sending a recent letter to President Donald Trump and Congressional leaders supporting immigrant children and families. However, he was more than happy to repeat  the position several times before, during and after the meeting to reassure community members of his personal commitment to the issue.  

“On behalf of every single kid in this community, over my dead body will any federal entity enter our schools to take immigration actions against our kids,” Carvalho told reporters after the vote.  

Assembled parents and advocacy groups appreciated the efforts.

“We thank the superintendent and school board for their continuous support and leadership to protect immigrant families in Miami Dade. The implementation of all policies in place to protect our immigrant youth will be crucial in ensuring that all immigrant youth have access to an education and a learning environment that is free of fear. We look forward to working together for the safety of immigrant students and their families.” Julio Calderon organizer for the Florida Immigrant Coalition

Community residents came in concerned that the School Board was potentially dragging their feet on providing a strong concrete directives for teachers and school administrators that reassures families that local schools will become not part of aggressive federal efforts to deport students and parents. While school officials had been meeting for several weeks on the issue, community organizations and advocates were brought in late to the process, sparking fears that the M-DCPS Board would do little to fail to produce a concrete plan to protect families, as was done several weeks ago in Broward County.

“Life for immigrant communities under the current [federal] administration has not easy and for many of us, it will continue to get worse. We appreciate all steps taken to work together to protect our families and especially our children, who are witnessing the horrors of Trump’s Deportation Force.” Maria Bilbao organizer from United We Dream.

Meetings and conversations over the last several days had helped address some of those initial fears and have provided language directing schools to collaborate with parents and community groups on the issues. Still, with no clear steps outlined as to how this collaboration would occur, some wondered how they would hope to hold school officials accountable to the promises made to them and their children.  

“I stand in solidarity with all immigrant communities. I have a 7 year old son who is in first grade. We are all documented and my child has come on multiple occasions asking me “what is going to happen to my friends who weren’t born here.” They are having this conversations at 7 years old. I am here because I am anxious about what is happening in our country. Parents need to be reassured that their children will be protected.”  Karla Hernandez-Mats, President of united teaches of Dade

Superintendent Carvalho strongly emphasized to the Board and attending parents that current policies in place support the traditional role of Miami Dade Public Schools as safe havens that protect students and their parents, regardless of status. He hoped that both the meeting and the publicity surrounding the issue would help educate those who might be too scared to know their rights and options.  

“The fact that you are having this conversation may actually inspire parents or children who may have fears with the  opportunity to actually approach their principal or counselor,” said the superintendent to his remarks to the Board. “Schools are safe havens. They can ask any question of us. We shall not ask a question of them, but if asked we are ready to provide information and provide support.”

See the Superintendents full comments here.

Parents and community groups all over Florida have been asking their school officials to publicly support students and families with practical solutions that help them cope with the increased strain that aggressive federal law enforcement tactics are having on immigrants, regardless of status, is having on students in school and at home.

Last week, the Broward County School Board voted unanimously to become the first school district in Florida to designate itself an inclusive, safe and welcoming district and mandated that schools work with parents to create a “Safe Plan” that would prepare them in case they or loved ones are targeted for deportation.  While the measure is noteworthy because of the current political climate, it falls well within the supportive role that schools have traditionally played around immigration. Courts have long held that public schools are legally obligated to provide all students from K-12 access to an education regardless of their immigration status. Immigration enforcement officials have also have sensitive location memos in place that do not allow them to target schools, hospitals, churches, funerals and public demonstrations.

“How we treat our children is a reflection of us. It defines the future that we have,” Broward County Superintendent Robert W. Runcie said just before the measure was passed. “The stand that we are taking here today not only sends a message to our students and our community that our schools are a safe haven for them, but it also sends a message about how they ought to view the world and how they needs to respect, celebrate and tolerate other culture. [If] we try to model love and compassion, it will move into the next generation.”

Broward School Board Passes Resolution Supporting Immigrant Families

During a powerful and emotional Broward County School Board meeting on Tuesday, March 7th, a packed room of parents, community residents and faith leaders sporting orange ribbons spoke in defense of immigrant children and families. During the widely-attended meeting, which took place at County Board headquarters at the Kathleen C. Wright Administration Building (600 S.E. 3rd Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301), the School Board unanimously approved a measure designating the Broward School District an inclusive, safe and welcoming district that protects all children and mandates that schools to work with parents to create a “Safe Plan” that would prepare them in case they or loved ones are targeted for deportation.

“This is a huge victory for all students,” said Broward parent Mica Jordan. “When you go to school, the last thing that should be on your mind is whether or not your family will be intact when you get off [the bus].”

The resolution passed at a time of great turmoil in the immigrant community, when immigrant activists are being targeted and immigrant families are being torn apart, living in fear of raids and deportation. In nearby Palm Beach, the School Superintendent declared his county’s schools “safe harbors from raids.” Meanwhile in Miami-Dade, a judge just shot down a detention policy the county adopted to follow Trump’s deportation order in the face of widespread community opposition to the President’s threats to withdraw funding to localities that are supported of undocumented communities.

“It’s a big win for the immigrant community,” said Roberto Benavides of Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER). “It means that kids are going to be protected and that they are going to be able to just be kids — focus on their education, their extracurricular actives and be a part of their communities.”

“How we treat our children is a reflection of us. It defines the future that we have,” said Broward County Superintendent Robert W. Runcie just before the final vote. “The stand that we are taking here today not only sends a message to our students and our community that our schools are a safe haven for them, but it also sends a message about how they ought to view the world and how they needs to respect, celebrate and tolerate other culture. [If] we try to model love and compassion, it will move into the next generation.”

Francesca Menes, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Florida Immigrant Coalition, agreed with Runcie, saying that she hopes that the resolution, the first supportive school board statement of its kind in the state of Florida, is one that reverberates in Tallahassee.

“On this first day of the Florida legislative session, our leadership in Broward sent a strong message to other elected officials that our immigrant children and families are an important part of our communities, regardless of their immigration status,” said Menes. “As anti-immigration bills circulate in Tallahassee, officials should take a moment to consider that at the local level, leaders recognize the contributions of immigrants and that every child has a right to live and learn without the constant fear of losing a parent due to being deported or detained.”

Parents, teachers and clergy went into the afternoon sharing personal experiences of how President Donald Trump’s Executive Orders targeting all immigrants, regardless of status, was having on students in school and at home. What community members needed from school officials was a firm commitment to protect them against aggressive immigration enforcement that is sweeping many communities in the nation.

“Unless everyone is told that the educational setting is a protected space, parents fearful of being deported on the way to school may keep students at home and we all know how crucial regular attendance is to learning,” said retired elementary school Assistant Principal Cindy Johnson, a 15-year veteran of the school district. “I personally know how seriously school staff takes your directives. I am sure that when you reiterate to them that the district is welcoming and is a protected space for all students regardless of immigration status, religion or country of origin, they will take this to heart and work tirelessly to ensure that their students feel their reassurance. They need to know that those in charge of the District strongly support this inclusive position.”

Board members tried to find a balance, wanting to show leadership on the issue while not overstepping their authority so as to make any actions reversible by other government agencies. Courts have long held that public schools are legally obligated to provide all students from K-12 access to an education regardless of their immigration status. Enforcement officials had previously been instructed in memos not to target schools, hospitals, churches, funerals and public demonstrations, though recent arrests and deportations of activists like DACA-recipient Daniela Vargas, who was targeted after leaving a news conference, have left the immigrant activist community terrified.

Ultimately, Board Members were swayed by the diverse voices who encouraged officials to not just protect students at school, but any place where education-related activities were being held. Broward School members were attentive and School Board Member Donna P. Korn offered an amendment expanding the original resolution to include bus stops, extracurricular activities like team sports and even special occasions like proms and graduations.

School Board Member Robin Bartleman, who proposed the amendment, rejoiced with fellow Broward residents after it passed. “I want to say thank you to this community for coming out and making it easy to do the right thing. I love Broward County.”

Community Access Center CEO Magaly Prezeau echoed many community service providers in telling the board how proud and thankful she was in their proactive approach to the issue. “Our families, especially Haitian families, are very scared and are really worried about sending their kids to school. They have even begun sending them to school with copies of their immigration papers in case they’re stopped in the street,” said Prezeau. “But today, you told them that they were important. That they are a protected part of our community. Thank you for passing this resolution and for being champions for our voiceless immigrant children.”

Florida Legislature Kicks-Off Session With Attacks To The Safety of Immigrant Families

 

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Not even a full week has passed since Florida’s Legislative Session started, and the House Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee already voted to pass a bill banning “sanctuary” cities or counties. House Bill 697 was approved yesterday afternoon with 9 votes in favor and 5 votes against. This bill is just one of a total of 9 Trump-inspired bills that have been filed this session to intensify the persecution of undocumented immigrants and refugees and shut down any safe spaces for immigrant families, from their homes and neighborhoods, to schools, churches and hospitals.

Falsely framed as a crack-down on “criminal immigrants” to make Florida safer, the majority of these bills open the door to legalizing racial profiling by law enforcement of millions of Floridians simply because of the color of their skin, their religion, their country of origin or their language. This will affect millions of Floridians and not only those who are undocumented.

HB697, sponsored by Rep. Larry Metz (R-Lake), has a Senate version sponsored by Senator Aaron Bean which has not been heard in committee yet. The rest of the Trump-inspired anti-immigrant, anti-refugee bills include:

  • CS/SB 120: Offenses by Aliens Unlawfully Present in the United States
  • HB 83: Offenses by Illegal Immigrants
  • SB 786/ HB 697: Federal Immigration Enforcement
  • SB 1358: Reentry into the State by Certain Persons
  • SB 82: Postsecondary Education Tuition and Fee Waivers
  • SB 1030: Background Screening of Refugees
  • CS/HB 427: Refugee Assistance Programs
  • CS/HB 17: Local Regulation Preemption

“Since Trump announced his candidacy last year, we’ve seen a spike in anti-immigrant bills comparable to 2011 when Governor Scott’s legislature tried to bring Arizona’s worst anti-immigrant laws to Florida. Back then, the bills were defeated after thousands of Floridians flooded the State Capitol to protest the bills, and the agricultural and business sectors raised the alarm of a potential economic crisis. Is that what our legislature wants to do again this session? Spend our time and our resources debating and approving bills that separate families and threaten our economy? How does that make Florida safer and create opportunities for working families struggling to make ends meet?” says Francesca Menes, Director of Policy from the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

Fortunately, some legislators have understood that attacking immigrant and refugee families does not make our communities safer and that, instead, it increases the criminalization and stigmatization of other Floridians, not only the undocumented. The contributions of immigrants to our economy and our culture are greater when given an opportunity. This session, there are six proactive bills such as:

  • SB 1732/ HB 1341: Postsecondary Education Tuition and Fees
  • SB 1674/ HB 1407: Enforcement of Federal Laws
  • SB 184/ HB 1061: Driver Licenses and Identification Cards

“Senator Anitere Flores and Representative Jeanette Nunez know very well what happened in 2011 and since then have supported pro-immigrant bills. We look up to them to use their leadership in both chambers and do what’s right to protect Florida’s immigrant families,” says Ana Lamb from LULAC council 7250.