Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Are Immigration Authorities Going After School Children Now?

This is terrible. It shows how the hate that fuels ICE has no regard for the laws that protect ALL students enrolled in schools. These actions lead to incarceration-like consequences for families and communities that fear leaving their homes. What a violation of human rights! -Patricia

Editor's Note: Immigration raids near schools in Berkeley and Oakland have sent waves of panic in the communities and may keep undocumented students from attending class, writes NAM education reporter Amanda Martinez.

By Amanda Martinez, New American Media
May 8, 2008

OAKLAND, Calif. - Berkeley High senior Chase Stern said he was taking an Advanced Placement test May 6, when he noticed that his classmates were fidgeting in their seats and seemed distracted.

He soon found out that the Latino students were receiving text messages and phone calls from family members, warning them that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers were nearby, and that they should be cautious and find their way home because family members could not pick them up.

Scores of undocumented parents began to panic as early as 7: 30 a.m. May 6, as word got around that ICE vehicles were parked near schools in East Oakland and South Berkeley.

Parent liaison Isela Barbosa said she was swamped with phone calls all day. "Parents were so afraid to come to the school, they called family members and neighbors, whoever had papers, to pick up their children."

A community member contacted Mark Coplan, Berkeley Unified School District's public information officer to tell him that a Latino family from South Berkley had been detained at a house near Russell Street, and that neighbors had spotted ICE vehicles near school areas.

By noon, the district had received so many calls from concerned parents that they set up an automated voice message system, assuring parents that that there was no way they would allow ICE officers to pick up students from school campuses. These messages were sent out both in English and in Spanish.

At about the same time, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) officials were receiving similar calls from concerned parents and community members that ICE agency vehicles had been spotted near four Oakland schools, including Esperanza Elementary, where parents say they saw agents parked on International Blvd, 98th, 95th, and San Leandro Boulevard, a four block radius surrounding the school.

OUSD officials said they were hesitant to communicate with parents, so instead sent out e-mails to all school district staff about what was happening and reminding them that the school district's commitment was to educate all students, documented or otherwise. The e-mail also advised staff not to facilitate any immigration enforcement actions.

As word of the presence of ICE agents in the neighborhood spread, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums rushed over to Esperanza Elementary School, where a number of parents and community members had gathered.

Addressing them, the Mayor called the situation the "the ugly side of government."

He labeled the ICE actions "inappropriate and unnecessary" and reiterated that children needed education, not harassment. "There should be no raids in Oakland," he said.

"As a sanctuary city," Dellums said, "we're all in unison. We don't want this type of intimidation. Immigrants are human beings, and need to be dealt with respect."

Oakland Vice Mayor Larry Reid, who also showed up at the school, said there was no warning about the ICE raids. "ICE just rolls in and tells our police department after the fact," he said. "The students are upset and crying. The school's administration said some of the kids are very shook up."

ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said that the agency is mindful of the sensitivities associated with schools. She said there was no truth to the reports that ICE was targeting schools on this day, and that the two ICE fugitive operations teams based in the Bay Area go out virtually ever day seeking immigrant fugitives.

She confirmed that on the morning of May 6, ICE officers arrested four immigration violators who were from Mexico, and were living at a residence in Berkeley. A fifth person was arrested at a residence in Oakland, she said, noting that all five have been released, pending immigration hearings.

Sara Nuno of the Family and Community Office of the OUSD dismissed ICE's assertion that there was no targeting of any schools. "They are targeting schools and we are watching them do it," she asserted.

Ellen Murry, who had come to the school to pick up her grandnephew, said that she believed these types of government actions hurt all students, not just the undocumented ones. She said that if students stayed away from school out of fear, it could impact the school district's income, the bulk of which comes from student attendance.

Troy Flint, communications officer of OUSD, pointed out that such raids distracted students who were taking the state standardized test. He assured students that the OUSD would do everything it could to allow them to finish taking the tests.

Parents and local groups, including the Alameda Labor Council, sent out more than 900 e-mails letting parents know of what was taking place.

One parent liaison, who helped to make phone calls throughout the day to concerned parents, said he thought the fear of deportation was serious. If parents sought his advice, he said, he would tell them to keep their chidren at home, even though the OUSD has assured them that the students would be protected.

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