immigration and schools

CHARTER EDtalk: A Charter Leader’s Advice on Immigration Policy and Families

With all the news of children being torn from their families, we have a story from one of our charter leaders that is more important today than ever. We realize that politics and immigration laws touch charter families in many ways, and want to share this video because hearing the stories of students we serve moved us so deeply.
Editor’s Note: On the day that the separation of children from their parents has apparently ended, we are posting this charter leader’s experience with immigration laws and policies, and their ramifications on charter school students and their families. Find the CHARTER EDtalk video and transcript below.



Janet Johnson: Hi there and welcome to CHARTER EDtalk. I’m Janet Johnson with Charter School Capital and we are delighted today to have Ricardo Morales, who is the Founder and Executive Director of Academia Avance here to speak with us along with Marci Phee, who is our Director of Client Services. We are very grateful to have you come and talk about a very important topic today. Marcie, take it away.
Marci Phee: Thanks Ricardo. Ricardo and I worked together for years, so this is a great conversation among friends.
Janet Johnson: That’s great.
Marci Phee: Would you give us a overview of the debate regarding the collaboration between school staff and immigration policy enforcement?
Ricardo Mireles: Oh yes. Obviously right now there’s a lot of attention on it, but it’s important to know that this is not new. The attempt to use public service employees to try to enforce federal immigration laws goes, goes way back. And in fact, the current attempts are building on something that was successful. So, some historians estimate that as many as file million Mexicans left the United States in the thirties in 30’s and the 40’s not because they were deported, but because they got scared and left from other efforts and so getting other people involved to try to push people out is not a new thing.
And, if we think back to, the Plyler Decision  that comes out of Texas, a constitutional position, it found that public education is a right for everybody, regardless of immigration status—that is a constitutional obligation. And so schools need to do that. And that they keep trying to get around this. This is was what prop 187 in California was,  the attempts in Arizona, and Alabama, and now in Texas. And they keep trying to come back to an issue that has already been established. And so what I try to convey to school leaders is this isn’t about trying to change a law and make things better. It is the law and we need to do it to protect families and that our attempts to reinterpret law – and in fact that’s kind of what’s happening right now, reinterpreting the rules – and now it seems it’s okay to take kids away from families. That was never okay. And so let’s not allow it. We didn’t allow it in the past, let’s not allow it now.
Marci Phee: How does this impact charter schools, specifically?
Ricardo Mireles: Well, we have an opportunity, our school, a small school—the independence, the autonomy that we have now, it’s an autonomy for how you operate the school, to the autonomy for how you designed the curriculum. But I think it’s also an autonomy for how we can interact with our families and we have to use this. Now, the traditional schools are also trying very hard on this very issue and we were very happy to – Avance together with other schools– put together a collaborative called CASAS, which is California Schools Are Sanctuaries. And we adopted the ACLU Sanctuary Toolkit early on and not as a resolution but as a specific set of operating policies and procedures. Then we advocated with schools in California and LA Unified, which has always been a champion for immigrants and all families. They adopted this statement as well. Then, we kept pushing it and now it became law. So the new AB 699 law, California law, which specifically outlines the provisions that schools must follow terms of protecting immigrants and their families, like all the other protected classes.
So, what is it that charter schools can do, is use your autonomy to be able to move quickly to address these issues. And I would add that what is the whole fundamental core, in my opinion, for education, it’s the trust that frames education, that the trust that parents have, they’re taking their most treasured – their kids – and take them to your school. So, obviously it’s based on trust. It can’t be a passive trust. You have to do something with that. It’s our responsibility as school leaders to do something with metrics and in this context with immigrant families, it’s not this kind of hands off approach that was essentially what most schools were doing and we all kind of felt, well, we’re going to be fine.The new president’s going to fix everything and we’re going to be okay.
We’re not okay. And so the tactic can be a more benign, along the sides. It has to be very active and proactive in and work with families. Are you ready? Have you had the hard conversation with your kids? The epiphany that I had when our parent, who was detained by ICE in February 2017, was ‘what could we have done before?’ If we already know, as a college prep school, what people’s immigration status is as part of their financial aid preparations. It’s going to come out, we’re gonna know senior year, then why are we waiting until the senior year? Why can’t we work with these families? Maybe not the second graders or third graders, but eighth graders, ninth graders, let’s get these kids involved. Let’s find these solutions and get people prepared way earlier not at the last minute when it’s too late. And I believe schools need to do that and the way to do that is to use the trust that you have to work with families because they won’t tell you anything if they don’t trust.
Janet Johnson: It’s almost like different kinds of security prevention, you know, protection, isn’t it?
Ricardo Mireles: Yes. And that word is used in so many different contexts. This context about security, and I know you don’t mean it that way, but also the first thing that people were responding to with this crisis is the physical security of the campus and how do we keep ICE away from campus. Well, as it turns out the Plyler decision already does that for you. Right? And the, the Department of Homeland Security already has a policy that specifically states that they’re not going to take action, for the most part, on schools. That’s already there. It’s already policy and law. So there’s a lot of concern about what do we do if ICE shows up. They’re not supposed to show up. Now, if they do show up then you’ve got other issues that we’re going to have to deal with and these AB 699 procedures are going to help you with that. But, this is about emotional security, a security which we need so that kids can stay focused on learning. We had this huge incident, right after our situation in February 2017 and all these kids saying, “I need to use the phone”, they come into the office “I need to use the phone.” And then in donned on us… [they were checking] “Is my mom still home?”
Marci Phee: Has that gotten better? Take a moment.
Ricardo Mireles: Yes, it has gotten better.
Janet Johnson: Mercy.
Editor’s Note: Our team all took a moment here to gather ourselves after Ricardo shared that poignant story. 
Janet Johnson: Thank you for sharing that. Seriously. Many of us are parents and no one should be put in this kind of place and no child should be put in this kind of place.
Ricardo Mireles: You asked me if it’s gotten better. It’s gotten better in one particular way. Many ways, but let me focus on one. especially with this family. My favorite headline was on September 2nd, right after he got released and it said that he went from a taquero [someone who makes or sells tacos] to activist. And so, this was a gentleman who was put in your most difficult situation—to be away from his family. And he comes out like I’m ready to go. I’m ready to advocate for all those other guys that are still in there … and quite strongly. And he was a big push for SB 54 in the California Senate to push for more protections. He’s the first one now at the school when we need something. So he’s super, super activated to make change and now all his kids are as well. So, it’s gotten better for him, it’s gotten better for his family, for his kids. It is kind of better for our school to realize, wait a second, we can beat this. That struggle translates in the sense of now you have a Parkland situation. Our kids were out there, they did a walkout. And we took kids to the march in DC, the march in LA, one of our students was a speaker at it, to come out on this issue. So, in Spanish, “No hay mal que por bien no venga”, or “Every cloud has a silver lining,”right? So that something happens and it should trigger a bigger response. And we’re seeing that happen.
Marci Phee: Charter schools in my experience and those I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know and visit, but that they they’re not just a community but that they strengthen communities and everything you just said reinforces that for me.
Ricardo Mireles: I would present this early on at Avance, that we’re a three-legged stool. Students, parents, and school/teachers. Not a four-legged stool, it’s a three-legged stool. And what happens is if one gets wobbly, it forces the other two to immediately reinforce. We’ve got to hang together or else the school’s going to fall over. And so it’s much more immediate, the need to to everybody be together in a charter school.
Janet Johnson: What a great way to sum it up. Seriously. I want to thank you so much for being here and sharing your, your, your wisdom with us in this day and age. Both of you.

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