SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City School District will do “everything in its lawful power” to protect students’ constitutional and legal rights and to ensure schools are not disrupted by immigration enforcement actions, according to a resolution reaffirmed Tuesday by the Salt Lake City Board of Education.
The board voted to support the 2017 Safe School Resolution, which states the school district cannot and does not inquire about students’ immigration status, nor their parents’ or guardians’ status, as part of the school admissions process.
The resolution was largely drafted by former board President Heather Bennett, who died in March. The board decided not consider a new resolution but to reaffirm the earlier version to honor Bennett’s contributions as its primary author and a board leader.
The board’s action joins local boards of education across the country endorsing like policies in the face of stepped up immigration enforcement nationwide affecting students and families.
The board also adopted the Resolution for the Protection of Children, which notes the “deep concerns of its constituents about the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, especially minors at the U.S.-Mexico border.”
It says, in part, that the board recognizes the right of the United States to secure its borders, “but as individuals dedicated to improving the lives of children, the board deplores the use of family separation, which can cause irreparable harm and lifelong trauma to children, as a tool of immigration policy aimed at deterring people seeking safety.”
Board member Nate Salazar said historically, Salt Lake County has been a welcoming community. It is important to continue to celebrate the diversity in Salt Lake schools, which is minority majority with many of those students immigrants and refugees, he said.
“With this current fear I’m hearing about from families and from kids and students and of course our advocacy groups here in Salt Lake, that fear is real, and as kids are coming to school and living at home in that kind of fear, that certainly takes away from the important work of going to school and being present in school and having that opportunity to become educated,” Salazar said.
He added: “I truly believe as a school board member our No. 1 priority is our kids. If there’s anything we can do as a district or as a board to mitigate fears around this issue then I think we need to do it.”
The vote on the 2017 Safe School Resolution reaffirms the school district’s commitment to providing equal opportunity for all students to attend and enjoy opportunities and benefits available in our schools “regardless of ethnicity, race, religion, national origin or immigration status, and to be free from harassment and intimidation.”
The Safe School Resolution states that unless authorities have a search warrant issued by a federal or state judge or magistrate, they will not be granted access to schools for purposes of immigration enforcement, except in rare instances.
“In very narrow and rare ‘exigent circumstances,’ which are defined by federal law, the district will legally be required to allow access without a valid search warrant. However, it is extremely unlikely that exigent circumstances will be present while our students are engaged in school activities because exigent circumstances generally involve situations where law enforcement is in hot pursuit of a fleeing criminal suspect or where evidence of a crime is about to be destroyed,” the policy states.
Under district policy, employees are instructed to immediately contact the executive director of policy and legal services if officers attempt to enter school property, attempt to communicate with a student while the student is under district supervision, or the district receives a request for information about students for the purpose of immigration enforcement.
“No request shall be granted until it has been reviewed by the executive director of Policy and Legal Services,” the resolution states.
Enforcement activities at schools, on transportation routes, on district property or during our school activities, “would significantly disrupt the learning environment and substantially interfere with our students’ constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizures and to access a free public education,” the resolution states.
The resolution notes that families have “expressed their concerns about sending their children to school out of fear that deportation will occur while their children are in school, or that immigration officials may involve our schools.”
Amy Dominguez of the activist organization Unidad Inmigrante (Immigrant Unity) thanked the board for it actions. But she urged board members to also create a rapid response team to support students affected by detention, deportation and family separation.
Dominguez said 1,382 orders of removal have been issued in Utah since July, quoting TRAC Immigration, a comprehensive, independent source for independent and nonpartisan information about federal immigration enforcement.
“We must recognize the stress this is causes in our immigrant students and recall the practice of family separation is looming in our own great state,” Dominguez said.
The Safe School Resolution notes “to date, the district has not had any contact by federal immigration authorities.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement characterizes public schools as “sensitive locations,” places where, in the normal course of business, immigration enforcement actions should not occur, the resolution states.
However, Dominguez said ICE stations vehicles on school district property after hours or on weekends, she said.
“We believe this is done is to incite fear among the immigrant community and may prevent students from attending class for fear of removal,” Dominguez said.
The school district needs to clarify to the immigrant community that this done without the school district’s permission and the district is not collaborating with federal immigration authorities, she said.
Salazar said the board’s actions likely will not “change a lot of hearts and minds on the top federal levels, where these practices are being promoted and executed in many ways. If we can have an impact on our kids here and our families here, that they know their schools, their educators and their district are standing with them side by side, I think that’s very valuable. It has a huge impact on the day-to-day quality of life of students and our community.”
Elsewhere in the country, school districts are rolling out plans to protect immigrants’ rights on school property.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Detroit Public Schools Community District’s new policy says federal enforcement agencies and others will no longer be allowed to enter district property without search warrants and schools will not collect information on students’ immigration status.
Districts in Miami, New York City, Des Moines and Chicago have also adopted policies that say they will not cooperate with federal enforcement officials unless they have a warrant.