Monday, May 19, 2008

University of North Texas conference deals with how schools can help children following immigration raids

By STELLA M. CHÁVEZ / The Dallas Morning News
Friday, May 9, 2008

The morning that immigration enforcement agents raided a meatpacking plant in Cactus, Texas, a carpool of teachers called their superintendent to say they'd be late to school. A convoy of black Suburbans with flashing yellow lights was blocking their path.

Larry Appel, superintendent of the Dumas school district, which services Cactus, would soon discover that law enforcement had been directed to block some roads because of the raid.

Later that day, the superintendent conducted an unusual operation of his own: ensuring that every single child in his district had a home to go to that night. He said immigration agents were not unkind or rude, but he thinks "they really forgot about the children" on that day in December 2006.

Dr. Appel shared his story Thursday at a daylong conference at the University of North Texas on the impact of illegal immigration on education, the economy and social issues.

Rosa Castañeda, a research associate at the Urban Institute, said school districts should be prepared to deal with the repercussions of a raid or mass arrest in their area.

Ms. Castañeda recently co-wrote Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America's Children, which looks at three communities where immigration raids have taken place. She said schools often rely on standard emergency procedures, but that is not enough.

Schools should have a plan in place and be able to coordinate with social-service and public agencies, Ms. Castañeda said. Churches should work with them, too, to make sure children aren't forgotten in the hours and days that follow, she said.

"The most important system that has a bearing on the children's well-being and where the children ends up that night is the public school system," Ms. Castañeda said.

Tensions are rippling through many families as illegal immigration detentions increase in small towns and large urban centers.

As many as 3 million children are believed to live in mixed-status families, where a parent or both parents are in the United States illegally and other family members are there legally.

In Dumas, Dr. Appel said his staff was prepared to feed and house children overnight. His advice to other districts: obtain a list of more than two emergency contacts for every child.

On the issue of how immigration has affected education, Dallas schools Superintendent Michael Hinojosa shed a positive light on the subject.

"We don't want to apologize for our demographics," he said. "We're very proud of our students."

A native of Mexico who came to the United States as a child, Dr. Hinojosa said he doesn't know how many students in Dallas ISD are undocumented. The district has 50,000 students classified as limited English proficient.

"We see the challenges that are coming," he said of teaching students with limited English. "But we accept those."

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