It’s time to stop the growing fear of ICE in American schools
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While families across the country are sending their children back to school, immigrant families are under particular stress thanks to President Trump, who just pardoned Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff who openly racially profiled Latinos in “immigration patrols.”

As our kids go back to their classes, we urgently need assurances that the constitutional rights of immigrant families will be protected in the educational environment, in every school district across the nation. 


Arpaio was convicted on contempt of court charges after a federal judge ordered the sheriff to stop detaining people suspected of being in the country illegally. Excusing racial profiling with this pardon is only the latest in Trump’s attacks on immigrant families. Since Trump’s election, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests have increased 40 percent and ICE Chief Thomas Homan has said that all undocumented immigrants “should be afraid.”


Nationally, over 400 persons are arrested by ICE every day, tearing apart families with little due process and creating devastating circumstances, including fear that the family member being deported will face human rights violations.

We’ve seen over the last year that when Trump’s approval ratings plummet, he plays to his base by promising more anti-immigrant measures. While Latino families are standing strong and resisting these potentially unconstitutional actions, the reality is harsh. During the last school year, ICE arrested Latino parents and tore them away from their children at school bus stops and parent drop-off areas.

Presently, Trump is toying with the idea of cancelling deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA), a temporary legal protection for nearly 800,000 young immigrants who were brought here as children. Many of these young people, who are often called “Dreamers,” are Latino high school and college students, or parents of elementary school children.

DACA staves off only a small part of the damage of our country’s broken immigration system, under which 11 million people who are part of American families, communities and the economy remain undocumented. 

If Congress would pass comprehensive immigration reform, which nine out of 10 Americans support, then students would not be so vulnerable. Congress must pass the bipartisan bill to make DACA a permanent program. But in the meantime, the unthinkable has happened: ICE has been arresting and deporting some DACA recipients. Imagine having legal “papers,” then being deported.

The only acceptable response to Trump’s deportation machine is that every school district in the country must adopt constitutional sanctuary policies to protect the fundamental rights of immigrant school children, and to protect all children of color against discrimination. 

The Constitution clearly requires that schools enact comprehensive immigrant sanctuary policies. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe that the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution requires that undocumented children have the right to equal access to public education. Since then, federal courts have held that sharing immigration status information with the federal government violates the Equal Protection clause.

The main sanctuary protections needed to ensure schools uphold their Equal Protection obligations is to prohibit disclosure of immigration status information, which is also clearly protected by the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). 

The Constitution also requires that ICE should not be permitted to enter the school environment – including bus stops and parent drop-off areas – unless they have a judicial warrant with probable cause of a crime. School officials should be made fully aware that undocumented students and their families should not be treated as criminals. As the Supreme Court held in Arizona v. United States, being undocumented is a civil, not a criminal, violation. Therefore neither Arpaio nor local police or school officials have authority to enforce federal civil immigration law.

Moreover, because over-policing in schools impacts all communities of color, effective sanctuary policies must also include dismantling the racially discriminatory school-to-prison pipeline. This means keeping not only ICE — but law enforcement in general — out of the educational environment. Contrary to Trump’s rhetoric, we know from tough experience that having law enforcement in schools does not keep our communities safer.

It is also deeply concerning that hate speech and various hate crimes since Trump’s have occurred in schools. In recent months, a white supremacist shot and killed a young black man at the University of Maryland, and nooses have been repeatedly found at American University. This summer’s horrific display of white supremacy and racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, a college town, exacerbates these fears for families of color. 

Prohibitions against harassment based on race, national origin or immigration status are desperately needed. Considering that the great majority of immigrants are people of color, these are best termed non-discrimination policies. They are critical to ensure that students of color have equal access to education — which includes being safe and welcome at school. 

Every school must abide by strong rules against hate speech and hate crimes, as well as racial and anti-immigrant slurs that cause fear and create a hostile, discriminatory environment for students of color.

The millions of impacted students are part of American families and communities. That’s why many school districts have adopted constitutional sanctuary policies, and every school district nationwide should implement them. Schools without sanctuary policies may be unwittingly violating the fundamental rights of immigrant children, and should improve their policies immediately.

The school environment is for learning, a critical safe place for students to advance their future, and should not be co-opted as a site of fear and hate. As the Supreme Court said in the Plyler decision, the “inestimable toll” of depriving a child of equal access to education is impossible to reconcile with the constitutional principles being taught in our nation’s schools.

Katherine Culliton-González is senior counsel at Demos, a progressive public policy think tank based in New York.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.