New London school board passes emergency immigration policy

New London — The Board of Education unanimously approved an emergency immigration policy on Thursday that reaffirms the district’s embrace and need for protection of those here illegally and “anyone from any nation, culture, religion and ethnic background.”

The policy calls for development of protocols and procedures for office staff to follow when processing new families and for handling requests and visits from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other government agencies. It follows closely to the advice issued to schools last week from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Board member Zachary Leavy said the policy is essentially a codification of the ways the district can “protect immigrants who are directly under attack by the president.” The approval of the policy comes on the heels of a well-attended public meeting in which the district invited an immigration lawyer to help people understand their rights.

The biggest concern locally has been the increased effort under President Donald Trump’s administration to deport more undocumented immigrants, and the fear that even law-abiding city residents or their children could be targeted for deportation.

While schools always have been thought to be sanctuary areas, Leavy said some people are living in fear that ICE agents will come to the school asking questions or even to wait for someone near school grounds.

“We want to protect our students in any way we can. It’s incredibly disheartening that in 2017 we even need a policy to protect the rights of immigrants,” Leavy said. “There is nothing more un-American and against our values than what the president is doing.”

Michael T. Doyle, director of the Immigration Advocacy and Support Center in New London, said the Department of Homeland Security has a policy that considers schools, churches and other locations “sensitive” areas, where law enforcement does not typically conduct business.

“But that’s just a policy and can be revoked by the Department of Homeland Security at any time. It’s not law,” Doyle said.

Doyle said the school district’s policy appeared to be making a clear statement that the schools are an inclusive place and may help reassure people that the district is looking out for its diverse student population.

The school district’s new policy references the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe, which makes it “unconstitutional for states to deny students access to a free public education based on their immigration status.”

The policy instructs the superintendent to provide information to staff and parents to ensure they are informed of their rights and where they can access legal and social services support.

The policy is called “Welcoming immigration and refugee communities,” and bars staff from inquiring about or asking for proof of anyone's immigration status. That measure includes asking for a social security number, since it may reveal an illegal status.

Daisy Torres, the school district’s director of bilingual education, said staff is being trained on how to respond to ICE requests and to recognize when ICE presents a warrant that is not signed by a judge. All requests will be handled by central office staff.

School board Chairman Scott Garbini said he has heard of parents not sending their children to school for fear of being swept up by ICE agents.

“It is heart-wrenching. It is appalling to me. I am absolutely on board with this policy,” Garbini said. “We support our families and especially our students and want to assure them that they are safe.”

g.smith@theday.com

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