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Supporting School Sanctuaries

Helping kids regardless of immigration status

Michael Leighton | 11/22/2016, 5:23 p.m.
Portland School Board Member Julie Esparza Brown has rallied and won support for a new school district policy to affirm ...
Portland School Board Member Julie Esparza Brown (left) has rallied and won support for a new school district policy to affirm the protection of civil liberties and the rights of all children enrolled in every classroom, including Beach School in north Portland (pictured), regardless of national origin or immigration status.

The sole representative of color on the Portland School Board has successfully rallied her colleagues behind a new district policy to make its schools safe and welcoming places that affirm the protection of civil liberties and the rights of all children regardless of immigration status.

Latina Board Director Julie Esparza Brown brought her concerns to a board meeting the day after the election of Donald Trump as president. In his campaign, Trump vowed to deport millions of undocumented immigrants from Mexico and ban Muslim refugees from Syria and other Mideast countries. He also pledged to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a program from the Obama Administration that protects children from deportation who were brought illegally to America.

The heated rhetoric surrounding the proposals has brought “a great deal of worry and concern about family stability and safety throughout our community,” Brown said. “We want to ensure we have policies and procedures in place so our families feel safe.”

On Thursday, the school board voted unanimously for a resolution sponsored by Brown that clarifies and limits immigration enforcement in Portland’s schools, citing a commitment to providing for the physical safety and emotional well-being of all children in school.

A professor at Portland State University and a third generation Chicana, Brown said there is a history of large scale deportation raids in the city of Portland by federal officers of Immigration Control Enforcement (ICE). The possibility of renewed enforcement under the law and order pledges by Trump required a pre-emptive policy for protecting children, regardless of national origin or immigration status, she said.

“We won’t tolerate any harassment and bullying of our students,” Brown told the Portland Observer. “When families are detained, we need a process of what to do to keep kids safe.”

On Friday, PSU President Wim Wiewel, in a message to faculty, staff and students, also declared that PSU would respond to concerns about the safety and wellbeing of undocumented students and those covered by DACA, by declaring the university “a sanctuary campus dedicated to the principles of equity, diversity and safety.”

“We reaffirm our unequivocal commitment to each other,” Wiewel said. All Portland State students, regardless of national origin or immigration status, should be welcome, safe and able to pursue their higher education as full members of the PSU family.”

Being a sanctuary campus means PSU and its public safety officers will follow state law that forbids local schools and law enforcement from enforcing federal immigration laws.

On Tuesday, Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Portland also commented on the possibility that Trump, his new administration and the Republican Congress will crack down on undocumented residents living in Oregon.

“I’m proud that people here are making a commitment to those who feel vulnerable and at risk, that we’re not going to abandon them and we’re going to stand up for them,” he said.

Under policies adopted by both PSU and Portland Public Schools, facilitating or consenting to immigration enforcement activities or sharing confidential student information, such as immigration status, would not be permitted.

The Portland School Board resolution recites the presence of ICE officers who come on to school property as a disruption to a safe and inviting environment. It directs the Interim Superintendent to develop a plan over the next 90 days for training all necessary school staff on how to respond to any ICE personnel requesting information about students and families or attempting to enter school property.

The board also wants policies and procedures to protect and care for students who have been negatively impacted by the removal of their family members during ICE raids, until a guardian or other designated adult is contacted, and that all teachers, administrators and school staff should be trained on such procedures.

Brown said it was important to be diligent of both state and federal law, while also knowing what protections can be made for the kids, administrators, teachers and the entire school district community.

“We needed a district wide policy to take the responsibility for these decisions away from individual schools and placed at the superintendent or board level,” Brown said.