Should all public schools be ‘safe havens’?

Should all public schools  be ‘safe havens’?

Helen Le and Chloe Johnson

PRO: Chloe Johnson

In almost all anti-bullying presentations, the phrase “school is a safe place” is engrained into the minds of students. Children are told that they should always feel safe, and never fearful of persecution from their peers. But when the persecution is from their own government, this ideal seems to be forgotten.

In light of the recent federal restrictions on undocumented immigrants, many school districts have either passed or are considering passing a “safe haven” policy, modeled after the original policy instituted in Sacramento in 2007.

This policy states that the school district in question will not allow immigration enforcement activity at any of its facilities, nor will Immigration and Customs Enforcement be allowed to enter school sites and district properties without prior written approval from the district’s Superintendent. It protects undocumented students from being persecuted at school, a place dedicated to learning and education.

“I strongly disagree with President Trump’s recent immigration order,” California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement published by the California Department of Education. “Diversity is California’s strength. We do not just welcome diversity. We celebrate it. An ill-conceived presidential executive order is not going to change that.”

In December, Torlakson reached out to all California school districts and urged them to adopt the policy, with a reminder of the preexisting federal laws preventing students’ records from being used to answer questions about their citizenship.

Students are supposed to feel safe at school. It is the one place where they are supposed to be free to learn, explore their interests, and make decisions about their future without worrying about being bullied, be it by their peers or their leaders.

All children should have the right to an education. If they are living in constant fear of their school turning them over to the authorities, that right has been taken from them. This fear leaves many students with a dilemma: stop attending school, or risk losing the life they live. When given the choice between their family, their home, and their peace of mind versus school, which would they pick? The answer is obvious.

Even conservatives who are opposed to undocumented immigrants should be in favor of “safe haven” resolutions, as the policy doesn’t necessarily guarantee undocumented students’ safety from legal prosecution. It simply means that being enrolled in public school will not increase their chances of being ripped from their homes and separated from their friends and family. This protection means that more undocumented students will be receiving an education — maybe even improving their English skills, as many conservatives constantly demand they do.

“Speak English, this is America,” is a phrase frequently uttered by anti-immigration advocates. Yet how can immigrants learn to speak English if simply attending school puts them at risk for deportation?

Fortunately, 11 out of the 25 largest California school districts have passed “safe haven” policies, with an additional five districts considering it.

In addition, California State University Chancellor Timothy White has vowed to offer protection and guidance to undocumented students. In a memo addressed to all California State University students and staff, White encouraged students to immediately contact campus police if they are approached by officials regarding their immigration status.

“We will continue to make every lawful effort to provide a safe and welcoming campus environment for all our students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of our community,” White said in the memo, released on February 22. “When something threatens our ability to think beyond our borders and learn from the world as a whole, we will oppose it. When something impacts anyone in our community – especially the most vulnerable – it impacts us all.”

CON: Helen Le

Apprehension of newly-elected President Donald Trump’s immigration policies has influenced many to take extensive measures to prevent deportation of undocumented immigrants. Accordingly, school districts throughout the state of California have developed “safe haven” policies, which involves noncompliance with U.S. federal agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Although the safe havens are understandably preferable for students who are undocumented immigrants, the institution of such policies signal the acceptance of protecting those who defy the law. But even with the possibility of students breaking the law, they are not the primary target of deportation efforts.

In an interview with CBS, Trump said his administration aimed to deport or incarcerate “the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers” who are here illegally. He also expressed hesitation on the future of undocumented immigrants who have not committed crimes, choosing to determine an appropriate course of action after the border is more secured.

The federal government should have record of the status of all citizens and immigrants in the country, including students in public schools, to accurately assess the next step for the nation and to hold residents accountable for their actions. Refusing to release the immigration status of people who are under jurisdiction of the federal government only draws attention to those who are undocumented immigrants, which does not make sense in a state with programs that grant benefits to people regardless of immigration status, such as AB-60 which allows the California Department of Motor Vehicles to issue licenses to people who are not legal residents of the state with the limitation that the card be used only for driving purposes.

If the students are not considered under the jurisdiction of the federal government, then legally their rights should not be protected to the same degree as American citizens by the U.S. Constitution, which includes the 14th Amendment and its equal protection clause. Free public schooling for undocumented immigrants, then, may possibly be denied.

Regardless, the ultimate refusal of public schools to comply involves the shielding of those breaking the law, which prevents them from being subject to consequences that define the legal system. Additionally, the school districts themselves may face Trump’s administrative action that already threaten to affect sanctuary cities, since they embody the same values. His responses to such lawless defiance can include federal grant cuts and lawsuits. With the federal government funding 14 percent of public schools in California, a dramatic drop in support would most likely require more state funding than already is occurring at 57 percent.

The debate of public schools declaring themselves as safe havens revolves around the controversy of the consequences facing illegal immigrants who are found. But these policies do not address that issue — they only skirt around the punishment. Reform should be targeted at immigration policies themselves; breaking the law should not be the automatic course of action when disagreeing with federal authority, since that only fuels anti-immigration sentiment. And furthering the divides among the people of the nation risks the destruction of democracy.