Delaware School District Moves to Protect Undocumented Students
Author Hannah Biener
Christina School District recently approved a “safe haven” policy designed to offer protection for students who are residing in the country illegally. It is the first school district in Delaware to adopt such a policy.
The act faced a steep uphill battle from the beginning, and an earlier draft was voted down by the Christina school board in February. That proposed policy would have allowed school officials to deny requests by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to have access to students.
Critics argued that in doing so, school staff would have to be confrontational in a capacity not appropriate for their job descriptions. By granting them the ability to deny requests by ICE, they would be “in the line of fire,” as one board member put it.
The measure that passed, however, gave the staff less confrontational options, allowing them to simply funnel all requests by ICE to the superintendent without denying or approving them. This is to ensure that ICE agents have a warrant or court order before detaining a student.
However, the policy also states that staff cannot “make imminent threat determinations,” meaning that they cannot protest if ICE officials are concerned with a student they deem as an “imminent threat.” Under the policy, in this case, staff could not deny access to ICE officials, and would solely alert the superintendent as to the breach of the policy.
The “imminent threat” determination, however, drew criticism from one board member. Jessica Bies, an education reporter for the News Journal, described his concern as stemming from the fact that “it’s not very clear whether or not a teacher can deny access to a student and in what circumstances.”
Additionally, the policy’s wording still assigns a vague role to teachers. As Ms. Bies summarized, since teachers “aren’t trained lawyers or law enforcement professionals, how can they really know if there’s an imminent threat?”
No other school district in Delaware has proposed any such policy, which comes as a contentious debate surrounding immigration takes place across the country. Undocumented immigrants are seeking refuge from a crackdown on illegal immigration spearheaded by President Trump. He has emboldened ICE agents to pursue undocumented immigrants, and immigrants are seeking guidance at Mexican consulates across the country.
The issue affects every state, even those not located near the Mexico border. According to a 2014 Pew Research Survey, Delaware houses about 20,000 undocumented immigrants, a number which immigration proponents estimate to be much higher.
With President Trump’s actions coming from the federal government, immigration advocates will have to work through local and state governments to try to safeguard undocumented immigrants. Actions like the Christina School District might be the first of many.