Immigrant Group Wants Clear Rules on ICE in Philly Schools

By CLAUDIA LAUER, PHILADELPHIA (AP):- A Latinx immigrant rights organization is asking the School District of Philadelphia to set clear rules and better train staff and teachers on restrictions against Immigration and Customs Enforcement involvement in its schools.

Juntos organizers held a news conference Monday to launch its Sanctuary Schools Campaign, calling for more training, clearer district guidelines and renewed financial investment to make schools a safe space for children regardless of their immigration status. The campaign comes a little more than a year after ICE officers detained a pregnant mother who had just dropped off her child at Eliza B. Kirkbride Elementary School last February in Philadelphia, an action that caused ripples of fear through the immigrant and refugee communities.

Community organizer Zia Kandler said Juntos conducted a yearlong survey of 350 Philadelphia school teachers, faculty and administrators about ICE interactions and restrictions in schools. Nearly 75% of the educators said they had not been trained on how to navigate ICE presence in schools and a majority said they didn’t know who to contact if an ICE agent requested information about a student or student’s family.

The launch Monday was the first step in what Juntos organizers said will be a broader campaign to make sure immigrant students and families have their language, cultural and community needs met in schools.

“Before we can talk about these broader issues of what inclusive schools should look like, about reinvestment in language needs… we have to talk about the role of ICE in schools,” Kandler said. “It’s not the fault of one teacher or administrator who doesn’t know. There need to be clear guidelines and tools on how to support these students.”

A school district spokesperson did not return a message seeking comment Monday.

The district has issued a hefty 58-page immigrant and refugee toolkit to teachers and school faculty, which was updated last year to direct them to call the district’s General Counsel if an ICE agent came onto school property or they received a request for information about a student or their family.

ICE has operated under guidance in a sensitive locations memo for more than a decade. That memo directs officers to avoid enforcement actions at places like churches, schools, medical appointments, funerals or a handful of other sensitive locations unless there are are extreme circumstances and prior approval. The agency added COVID-19 vaccination appointments to its list earlier this year.

Kandler and others at Juntos and its partner organizations want the Philadelphia School Board to pass a resolution with a more concise and clear directive not to give out student information and not to ask about, collect or share student immigration status information. They want trainings for teachers and faculty, and they want the district to notify immigrant families of any ICE enforcement actions in or on school property.

The resolution proposed by Juntos also calls for school staff to deny any ICE detainers or requests that are not valid judicial warrants and to put in place a termination policy for staff who do not follow the restrictions.

The proposal also asks the district to not purchase any more metal detectors, facial scanners or social media and data mining software because they can be used as tools to “increase the reach of federal and state law enforcement agencies in schools.”

Rebecca Julien, principal of Kirkbride Elementary, held community forums and trainings in the months after the mother was detained outside her school last year. She offered her support for Juntos’ proposal Monday.

“Throughout our District, I believe we must stand with our immigrant and undocumented students and families to know their rights, guard their safety and protect their humanity,” Julien wrote in an emailed statement.

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