By Benjamin Grush
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Michelle King is expected this month to present a plan designed to help students who may be affected by stepped-up immigration enforcement actions.
The proposal comes nearly three months after the nation’s second largest school district adopted a resolution that aims to limit federal immigration agents’ access to school grounds.
The resolution calls for agents to obtain explicit approval from the superintendent and LAUSD’s lawyers before stepping onto a campus, and instructs school officials to refrain from questioning students about the immigration status of students and their families.
The resolution, together with the plan, is intended to quell growing fear among students who worry that the current anti-immigrant rhetoric will lead to raids in and around LAUSD schools.
Such fears aren’t baseless, despite public statements from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that schools are generally off limits.
Consider that in 2011, ICE agents surrounded a Detroit-area school while parents dropped off their kids. The incident sparked outrage and an internal ICE investigation. More recently, the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) received reports that officials in the Compton Unified School District threatened to call immigration officials on parents in that community.
That’s why LAUSD’s push to protect students is so important. Los Angeles is a diverse city where an estimated 10 percent of residents are undocumented, and far more belong to mixed-status families, where one or more family members lack permission to be in the U.S.
By adopting a resolution, and presenting a clear plan to help students whose families may be affected by immigration enforcement, the district is sending a strong message that may help keep students in school at a time when many kids face unprecedented trouble accessing a public education.
A recent report by Georgetown University Law Center found schools in several states have blocked immigrant children from registering for classes because they lacked legal status, despite federal requirements that all children, regardless of immigration status, be allowed to attend school.
No doubt, some critics will insist that such restrictions exceed the LAUSD’s authority to limit ICE agents.
Such arguments ignore that similar policies already exist for other law enforcement agencies. The Los Angeles County Office of Education, for example, generally requires that police officers obtain a court order or a warrant before speaking with a student.
While LAUSD is among the largest districts to adopt such protections, it may well serve as a good blueprint for other districts hoping to ensure the classroom remains an immigration enforcement-free zone where kids can learn.
Benjamin Grush is communications intern at the ACLU of Southern California.