The election of President Donald Trump ushered in uncertain times for those residing in the United States without documentation. Students with friends and loved ones whose immigration status makes them vulnerable to deportation have expressed fear that they will soon be separated.
Before the resolution was unanimously approved, SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez took a moment to express solidarity with the families living in fear.
An immigrant from Mexico himself, Martinez is married to a daughter of immigrants. The story of coming to the U.S. to seek security and prosperity is part of his family’s story. His support for these families is heartfelt beyond the obligations required by law.
“This is a deeply personal issue for me,” Martinez said.
The district resolution is a response to calls from the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel to adopt its own resolution to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement from entering district campuses, provide support to students and families, and train faculty and staff on immigration issues.
“We’ve seen and heard from teachers, social workers, principals, and counselors about a great deal of fear,” Alliance President Shelley Potter said. “I think that’s intensifying now with ICE enforcement actions being reported in Austin and around the country.”
Jenny Muñiz-Sicairos, a second-grade teacher at Rodriguez Elementary School, spoke in the citizens-to-be-heard portion of the meeting. She called for readiness in light of recent events.
“This is a changing landscape, and we need to be prepared to do more,” she said.
In SAISD, teachers have reported high levels of anxiety among students, as well as high school students’ increasing responsibilities for parents who “literally won’t go outside the house,” Potter said.
The district’s resolution is less detailed than the Alliance resolution, and does not specifically mention ICE. Currently public schools are listed among the “sensitive locations” where ICE will not conduct enforcement actions under normal circumstances.
SAISD will continue to admit students regardless of immigration status and foster a safe learning environment. The resolution reiterates that the district is not authorized to collect information regarding immigration status.
“We would have liked to see something a little more detailed than what is there,” Potter said. “But at this point we can work with what’s there.”
While the resolution does not detail protections for undocumented students and their families, it does begin a conversation wherein families can become informed of their rights.
“Parents do have a lot of rights that they don’t even know they have,” Potter said. “It’s important that they know what those rights are.”
The Alliance has prepared information packets for distribution. The information has been vetted by immigration attorneys and informs families of what they can expect from the district.
SAISD has posted an Immigration FAQ both in English and Spanish on the district website with basic information about the effects children’s immigration status has on their education, as well as a link to pro bono legal services where families can receive more information.
Alicia Perez, an immigration lawyer, reminded the board that the population in question is often uneducated. Now, in a climate of fear, they may be more wary of institutions and institutional language. While the resolution was sufficient for the top level, Perez said that thinking on the ground level needed to be more pragmatic.
“On the ground level, we need to be reaching out to parents on a level they can understand,” Perez said.
The broad language of the SAISD resolution steers clear of language likely to draw the attention of politically motivated actors. The Alliance resolution contains language crafted to reassure those who feel they may become ICE targets under the Trump administration.
“From our perspective this is not a political issue. This is a kid issue,” Potter said.