Educators in the Austin school district are providing information to students on what to do if immigration enforcement officials show up at their home or try to question them.
The labor group Education Austin provided its 3,000 members with various documents, including United We Dream flyers that detail “what to do if ICE comes to your door” — referring to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — to hand out to students. Leaders of the group say they provided the information after hearing from teachers and parent support specialists who said they were fielding questions from students and families regarding their rights.
Rumors have swirled on social media for more than a week of some sort of ICE crackdown in the Austin area.
At least some students received the flyers this week at the International High School in East Austin, but it’s unclear how many teachers gave out the flyers, or whether they were provided during school hours.
The flyers offer advice in English and Spanish.
“I see it as providing resources to families in need,” said Montserrat Garibay, vice president of Education Austin. “We sent it to the members so they can share it with their students. This is a crisis and families are scared. And when we have students in crisis, whether it’s a hurricane or other crisis, we give them information on what they can do.
“This is an issue that is affecting our students. As educators, it is our moral and ethical responsibility to provide them information that can help. Any educator who sees their students have an issue should give it to them and that’s what we’re doing.”
The Austin district did not provide an immediate response to whether administrators were aware the information is being handed out on school grounds.
Federal law requires schools to educate students, regardless of their immigration status, but after an Austin valedictorian experienced backlash for declaring her immigration status in a tweet that went viral last year, the labor group lobbied the school board to pass a resolution declaring support of all students, including those who are undocumented. The school board has not yet taken up the issue.
“Our board and administration have been reassuring our school communities through direct and campus outreach that our schools are safe places,” said board President Kendall Pace. “Our administration has sent information to campus leaders explaining the executive orders and what supports and services AISD has to offer. Our board has been more focused on action than on political statements of intent that distract from our work on improving students outcomes. However, given this uncharted territory and latest federal moves, our board officers will be discussing what, if any, additional direction to the Superintendent is needed to protect our students’ safety and learning.”
It’s unclear how many undocumented students are in the Austin school district, but there are 30,000 English language learners and about 1,000 refugee children in the school system.
“Whether the district takes action on their own or not, we are going to get information out to people,” said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin. “This is not political information. This is about the safety and security of our kids and their families. We are going to be sure that students are armed with information that will protect them and their families.”
Education Austin also is hosting a series of community clinics and forums regarding immigration laws and rights at different school campuses.
On Saturday, the group will host two “Know Your Rights” training sessions for educators, counselors, school staff and parent support specialists at Becker Elementary, 906 W Milton St. Later this month and in March, the group will also host clinics with lawyers working pro bono and the Texas Here to Stay Coalition for students and their families. Those providing assistance will help families legally designate a caregiver in case one or both parents are deported because the fear that their children would instead go into foster care, Garibay said.
The labor group in recent years has provided aide to students and their families in obtaining Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status, an immigration policy started under the Obama administration which allows certain young people who came to the United States as children to work and study in the U.S. legally.
As rumors of increased ICE activity in the Austin area continue to swirl, on Friday morning an immigration officer was treated at an emergency clinic for what officials say are minor injuries during an arrest in North Austin, according to officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Thursday night, a group of more than two dozen held a rally in front of a federal building in downtown Austin to protest after immigration officials detained a local man.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez recently put in place a policy that ended blanket compliance with federal immigration detention requests for those in custody in the county jail suspected of being undocumented. On Wednesday, the new policy allowed for the release of 37 suspected unauthorized immigrants.