By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) held a meeting at South High School on March 1 to address the concerns of immigrant and refugee students and their families. According to MPS Superintendent Ed Graff, the district began making plans for the meeting when President Trump’s executive order/travel ban was first announced. “We want students and their families to know that they are welcome here,” Graff said.
Graff explained that ”more than 100 languages are spoken by students in our district, and one in four students is an English language learner here. We pride ourselves on our diversity at MPS.”
Amy Moore, Chief Legal Counsel for the school district, responded to fears that students would be questioned by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers on school grounds. “If ICE officers come to any MPS building looking for students they believe are undocumented,” Moore said, “they will be directed to my office. They must have a properly executed warrant signed by a judge to enter a school. We will contact parents if there is any ICE activity or inquiry about their child or children. As of today, representatives from the St. Paul-based office of ICE stated that they have no intention of entering our schools.”
Photo right: (L to R) Marco Murrieta and Bisharo Yussef of Water Course Counseling, an in-school provider of culturally focused mental health counseling; Julie Young-Burns, MPS Social Emotional Learning Coordinator. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)
“In terms of data,” Moore emphasized, “MPS collects nothing related to immigration status. If parents are concerned about any of their child’s demographic information being made public, they can complete a ‘Directory Opt-Out’ form available in every school office.”
What exactly is ICE and what do they do?
ICE was created within the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, in the aftermath of the events of 911. It employs more than 20,000 people and has a presence in all 50 states and 48 foreign countries. ICE enforces both immigration and customs laws which, according to its website, involves going after illegal immigrants in the US and its territories, employers who hire illegal immigrants, and those trying to smuggle illegal goods or contraband into this country.
In the 14 years since it was created, ICE has been the subject of numerous controversies over its handling of illegal immigrants.
John Keller, Executive Director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, said, “The US Constitution is a powerful, enduring document which protects us in our schools, homes, and places of business.”
The organization he heads is Minnesota’s largest provider of free services to immigrants, and he has had a front row seat to immigration protocol since becoming the director in 2005. “We have seen a radical change in the way immigration enforcement is being carried out with the new administration, as well as a substantial increase in the number of new ICE hires,” Keller said.
He stressed to families that there are only two ways law enforcement officers of any kind can legally enter a home: if they have a properly executed warrant signed by a judge, or if they are invited in. If ICE agents are invited in, they may question anyone in the home—not just the person they inquired about at the door.
To the second point, Keller said, “All persons in this country, whether they are documented or undocumented, have rights. Those rights include denying access to your home to a law enforcement officer not in possession of a warrant, the right to remain silent, and the right to a phone call to your attorney if you are detained.”
Along with rights, come responsibilities. At one of the resource tables in the foyer, wallet-sized, four-fold safety planning cards were handed out to families. Listed responsibilities included:
• If you are detained or arrested, stay calm and be polite
• Do not lie or give false documents
• Make a family preparedness plan in advance
• Remember the details of your arrest or encounter, and write them down
According to Keller, “The average length of a deportation process in Minnesota is 2½ years from beginning to end.”
“If you are arrested or detained, don’t panic,” Keller counseled. “There are resources in the community, such as the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota and the Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Immigrant Law Project that can help. Deportation is a long, slow process.”
Keller also encouraged families to have a “check-up” with an immigration services provider (such as the organizations listed above) in advance of any problems. “The staff of these organizations can offer guidance about immigration status and next steps, help make a child care and family preparedness plan, and advise which documents you should or should not carry with you,” Keller said.
Other organizations present at the event included CAIR-MN (the Council on American-Islamic Relations), NAVIGATE (help for families anticipating a separation), and the Somali American Parent Association.