Trustees at one Texas border school district unanimously passed a resolution to make it a sanctuary for its illegal immigrant students and their families.
The action, taken by the El Paso Independent School District, affirmed the school board’s commitment to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program President Obama signed into law by executive order in 2012.
The resolution praises DACA by saying it “has allowed these individuals a way to come out of the shadows and be productive members of our society.” It calls DREAMers “an important component of our community” intimating that, although foreign-born and brought across the border illegally by one or more parents, it is through no fault of their own that these students may only know El Paso and Texas “as their home.” The document asserts that deporting these students, who are enrolled in El Paso schools and universities, would destroy families, the economic viability of the community, and the “future of millions of Americans.”
Among listed concerns, the document states the school district, its superintendent, and board members support DREAMers and their families in El Paso. It calls for “a bi-partisan effort in Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform and provide these DREAMers, along with other undocumented immigrants, a path to citizenship.”
According to the El Paso Times, the resolution passed on December 20, the school board’s last meeting before the district closed for winter break. Said President Dori Fenenbock: “No one understands this issue more than a community like El Paso here on the border.” She called the resolution “an important opportunity for us to lead out.”
Trustee Susie Byrd said the resolution was necessary because El Paso had a history where border agents patrolled near the district’s Bowie High, pulling over teachers and students outside a campus that sits across from the U.S.-Mexico border. She also said: “Because of the Trump message…” noted the Times.
Border Network for Human Rights Policy Director Robert Heyman applauded the resolution. He estimated tens of thousands of illegal immigrants live in El Paso and called the board “torchbearers.”
“When we’ve seen a great deal of nativism and xenophobia and racism around the country, I think it’s vitally important that institutions such as school boards and local governments reaffirm that we as a community are welcoming, inclusive and we’re working to advance the best interests of all the people who live here, work here and go to school here,” Heyman told the board, the El Paso Times reported.
School district general legal counsel Jeanne Cezanne “Cezy” Collins emphasized, though, the resolution was a “philosophical statement” of the board and not an order for district officials to take action.
It is not clear if other Texas public schools have declared sanctuary district status. Austin ISD floated a similar resolution, KEYE reported in June although it seems to have stalled. El Paso ISD trustee Trent Hatch suggested they partner with other Texas border districts but the El Paso Times indicated neighboring Ysleta and Socorro school district representatives said they had not even broached the topic of “sanctuary” resolutions.
“They’re in the same situation as we are,” he said: “If we’re going to lead, let’s lead. But let’s don’t stick our neck out if the state of Texas is not going to agree with it.”
In Texas, mainly colleges declared themselves “sanctuary campuses” including the University of Texas at Austin, Texas State University at San Marcos, University of North Texas, and Texas Women’s University. The border-based University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) demanded “sanctuary” status although President Guy Bailey disagreed, pointing out that neither the state nor feds “give us any indication that there was an interest in deporting these students or harming them.”
Recently, Governor Greg Abbott threatened to cut state funding in response to public state colleges pushing sanctuary campus agendas. Last year, he signed into law the toughest border security bill of any U.S. state. Abbott since called for the end of sanctuary cities, saying they will “no longer be tolerated in Texas.”
Other states have sanctuary school districts. In February, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) voted to ban Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from setting foot on any of their campuses without district permission. Following the Trump presidential win, and in response to widespread student walkouts on four consecutive school days, the LAUSD’s board passed another sanctuary resolution as a show of support to safeguard student data and protect, students, family members, or school employees who may be “adversely affected by any future policies or executive action that results in the collection of any personally identifiable information,” KPCC reported.
Portland’s public school board passed a similar resolution in November. It limited access to school records and classrooms, according to the Oregonian. In December, Santa Fe Public Schools became New Mexico’s first sanctuary school district.
Despite fears, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits schools from turning over student immigration status to federal agents. Additionally, Breitbart Texas reported on the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Plyler v. Doe, which protects K-12 illegal immigrant minors from discrimination and requires public schools to educate these students.
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